Artist Toshio Shibata remembers fondly the time in the late 1980s when he was photographing the Miyagase Dam in northern Kanagawa. On the Web site of the Zeit-Foto Salon gallery, where he is holding an exhibition of new color photographs, he writes that as he set up his large 8-x-10-inch camera, “this middle-aged construction site foreman came up, wearing his helmet . . . He pointed at the retaining wall opposite and said, ‘That is my creation — I want to record it properly.’ ” Five minutes later ¥5,000 had been exchanged for a promise to send a copy of the photograph that Shibata was about to take. If he was in it for the money, the foreman could now achieve about an 800 percent return on his investment. But that’s unlikely. Shibata’s elegantly composed photographs of jaw-droppingly expansive public works projects — retaining walls, dams, highway cuttings — are as much the work of the construction workers as they are his own. Could man inflict such vicious scars on the natural landscape, and yet still infuse them with beauty? Yes, just ask the guys who make them, or the photographer who has been documenting them for 20 years.
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