Monday, January 31, 2011

The Photography of Ray Shirao

I was browsing a Japanese bookstore the other day and randomly stumbled upon the amazing photography of Ray Shirao. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in complete awe of someone’s work. What really struck me about Shirao’s work was the oddity of his subjects. Never have I seen a photo of seemingly mundane objects appear so alien.

In Undercurrent, Shirao reveals the surprising beauty of the subterranean passages of Tokyo’s extensive sewer system. His photos are completely arresting in that they expose the dark abyss beneath our cities, an eerie man-made netherworld of caves that house the lifeblood of our daily existence, the pipes that carry our water, electricity, internet, television, and heat.

Beneath the strangeness and the surprising beauty is a lurking malice, a fear of the unknown and the unseen. Shirao plays on this unknown by using murky shadows, darkness, bewildering reflections, and odd shapes that let the viewer’s imagination run wild, as we project our own fears into the dark recesses of each frame.

In stark high contrast photos, the blaring concrete offsets the dark shadows in a stunning display of dark mysterious beauty. The photos that are particularly gorgeous are those that utilize the meager rays of light that have penetrated from the world above to illuminate the bizarre caverns. These fleeting rays cast brilliant shadows that bounce off the slimy surfaces and water to make beautiful shapes.

Be sure to check out his book Undercurrent, although it’s been pretty hard to find in online searches as it seems to be primarily in Japanese. In the meantime, be sure to head over to his website and check out his photos. But again, you will have to do some clicking around in the dark (oh badump chh!) as it’s all in Japanese as well.

To make things easier, here are a few of my favorites below.

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