New York Photo Review
NYPR Archives - 2010

Tokihiro Sato
R. Wayne Parsons
Tokihiro Sato

This is what stardust looks like; I was wrong, fairies really do exist; there must be an abundance of will-o’-the-wisps in Japan; fireflies are brighter and better organized than I previously thought.

These are a few of my thoughts when first encountering Tokihiro Sato’s exhibition “Trees” at Leslie Tonkonow gallery. This unusual show depicts trees in a forest in Northern Japan with white spots that suggest, as implied above, fairies, stars, fireflies, or whatever else your fancy decrees. In most cases these spots are clustered around the base of the tree dominating the center of the image.

These large black and white silver gelatin photographs are printed low contrast in the mid-to-dark half of the gray scale, with the result that we are largely unaware of the presence of direct sunlight in the images. And direct sunlight is essential for this series, as the artist worked by choosing very long exposures (up to three hours) and then moving quickly through the scene while using a small mirror to direct the sun’s reflection back to the camera, thereby creating the noticeable white spots –- and you probably thought they were added by a digital manipulation after the fact!

There is no denying that these images attract our attention. The question is, however, can they hold it? I’m not so sure. Aside from the novelty aspect, there doesn’t seem to be much of a message here. The press release speaks of the works as depicting Sato’s “presence but not his image” –- true, but still not much of a rationale for the approach.

One weakness of these images is that, deprived of the white spots, they are at best hum-drum depictions of forests and trees; we don’t have to look far in the history of photography to find many better ones. Another problem is that these images are so similar as to be virtually interchangeable.

Let’s see what this innovative artist does next.

Tokihiro Sato

Leslie Tonkonow
535 W 22nd St. 6th Fl
Chelsea         Map

212 255 8450

Saturday, March 20 to
Saturday, June 5, 2010
Hours: Tue-Sat, 10 to 6