Sojourn Exposure

"I had nothing to lose," he says. "I had no vested interest in anything, so I could just as easily photograph in Kobe or walking down the street to the supermarket or going to the temple."

He swapped his customary big camera and tripod, which required him to ponder every aspect of each shot, for a small camera which freed him from the rigors of taking meaningful pictures.

"I could pick it up and literally not look through the view finder," he says, "but just point and shoot. It allowed me to be quick and shoot without dwelling on the image, so I could really grab images as I was moving through space. I was consciously trying not to make images that were meant to be great images by themselves, and to think instead about what the whole could be if it were composed of a lot of parts."

He carried the camera every time he went out. He took more pictures there in six months than he could imagine taking here, simply because, he says, "If I had six months here to work in the landscape every day--something I've already got a history of--I'd demand another kind of imagery. I probably wouldn't give myself the freedom to just shoot anything that caught my eye.

"I hoped that experience would rub off and give me a better sense of how to deal with this landscape here. And maybe not even think about it in terms of landscape. Maybe think of myself as a photographer in some other way, because I wasn't even sure I wanted the moniker 'landscape photographer' anymore. I didn't want the limitation."

All of that is apparent in the way Klett organized the groups of pictures on the wall, juxtaposing images that together could strengthen the visual and narrative themes of his work.

There's the obligatory shot of Mount Fuji. Then, beside it, a distant view through the frame of a train window of a billboard lady with a parasol. Then a slightly blurry woman on a train--seen but unaware. Then the eyes of a man in a picture peering through some sort of opening.

It's fairly easy to read into these the notion of a watchful observer being observed--the stranger/tourist who is as much a curiosity to the locals as they and their surroundings are to him. Yet all is not unfamiliar. There are pictures of posters selling Lucky Strikes and Rolexes; there's the Peace Memorial in Hiroshima, whose shattered dome rises like a broken birdcage. And, above it on the wall, there's a black-and-white image of a glove in water, looking eerily like a hand reaching out of the fog.

In Klett's images from Hiroshima and Kobe, the rubble of wars and earthquakes suggests something vague about cycles of human and natural destruction and rebirth, but these and other notions are just passing thoughts.

That's partly because of Klett's customary reticence about declaring the full meaning of his pictures. Yet it also stems from this montage being Klett's first draft of an idea. There are some beautiful images in the groupings, but the overall work suffers from the traveler's distracted urge to fit everything in, to make sense of it all. The value of Klett's travelogue is the clear and rare view it gives of Klett's editorial process, and its reminder that seeing is more a matter of thinking than of believing.

Mark Klett's "New Work From Portugal & Japan" continues through Saturday,
July 6, at Lisa Sette Gallery, 4142 North Marshall Way in Scottsdale.

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