Picture analysis – Red Bridge, Okawa


What do you see?

A wooden railings or fenced bridge, leading across a red iron support, into an undefined space. I then looked the image up online and its much clearer than the printed version. I could see that it lead across to a forest covered mountainside.

I see beige rectangles and red triangles. Muted tones. Mountainside appears simply a tonal variation. Very limited colour pallet. No central focus to the image – eyes led in to image but not to anything. No circles/ no real curves. Direction would suggest left to right. Very geometric shapes, but also very repetitive in shape – small rectangles/ repeated red triangles. I wouldn’t have been certain this was even a photograph. With its bold confident lines and lack of a confirmed background, this could have been an old Japanese block print.

What took your attention first? And what took your attention after that?

I think the bold dramatic red lines drew my attention initially. Then the light geometric pathway.  I would imagine the direction of the wooden bridge sweeping out from the bottom left made my eye follow it.

Many subjects, but whats the main subject? Does the photo have metaphorical subject?

Main subject has got to be the bridge. After that we have the hillside. As for metaphorical subject we have the connection of a bridge. The moving into the unknown – we don’t know which side is Okawa. We can’t see clearly where we are going. There may also be the connection between changed economic structure of Japan- the traditional wooden bridge enveloped by the industrial iron. Questions still remain over where that will lead. We also have the manmade bridge plonked into a natural landscape.

Describe the quality of the light & shadow. Not atmosphere or mood of the picture.

Only a few incidents of extremes. Most is mid tones with subtle variations. Though the image is sharp, there is an interesting lack of detail. Whether its mist or light hitting the mountain/ forest we get soft tonal changes from the sunlight top left to shadow bottom right. Could there also be a play off between the figurative and abstract in photography. We have a documentary/ landscape photograph, but because of the light and shadow it doesn’t really document, it has just become a series of abstract shapes.

Composition – make a small sketch with notes explaining the composition.


What does the title tell you?

The title tells us when, where, what. Dates it in 2007, so we know its relatively recent, not an historical image – because looking at it, it is pretty timeless. We know where it is – does this mean something to us? to him? to the world at large? And ok its a red bridge – so I guess we have the symbolic meaning of bridges. But the name anchors it as a documented object rather than a general bridge, or to take it further a series of abstracted geometric shapes.

Name every object, that is every ‘thing’ thats in the picture.

Wooden bridge – planks/ boards. Metal bridge – Iron girders, rivets, red paint. Background – trees, mountains, mist. Might be a road in the back ground with road sign.

Is what you’re seeing and what you’re describing the same thing? Or is there something you think you ‘know’ intuitively? Make a distinction between what you can see and what you’re guessing, feeling or intuiting.

What I am seeing and describing aren’t necessarily the same thing. For example, physically I know the bridge has been made of 2 substances – wood and metal. I don’t know why. The bridge builder made a conscious decision to do this – he could have continued all in metal. Shibata has made a conscious decision to shoot this bridge, not another bridge and include both elements of the bridge. I can therefore suggest why he might have done this, the reasons for that decision, what he means by that decision, but I don’t know for sure.

What is your felt or personal response to the photograph? This is your experience of it.

I like the timelessness of this image. For example, as a photo it could have been an early colour image from the 1920s. Even as an art work it could have been a block print from the 18th century. So I was pretty reliant on being told what it was – being able to deliver that uncertainty is impressive for a documented object.

Also the same is true of the place. If it hadn’t said Okawa then I wouldn’t have known. I wouldn’t have even known it was Japan. If this had been taken by Clint in his trail round the Bridges of Maddison County, then I wouldn’t have been surprised. So I am impressed with that – to be able to produce an art work which is so undefinable by place or time.

I also like the way we have a photographic documented image which is more a painterly abstraction of tones and shapes than a landscape photograph. Blocks of colour, angles, lights, darks, tones, nullified background. Then of course, as with all images of bridges etc we get the obvious metaphorical questions of connections, where is it going, leading to somewhere but where?



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