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Visual Arts

Yamashita heads west with images from the East

If life’s gotten a bit dull and you’re looking to live your life vicariously through another, Michael Yamashita is a good candidate.

Yamashita has been one of National Geographic’s top photographers for more than 30 years, specializing in Asia but traveling to nearly every corner of the globe – and until now, Durango has been among the nearly.

“I’ve been to Telluride and Santa Fe but never got there. I’m very pleased to be working with them,” Yamashita said of Margy Dudley and Brandon Donahue at Open Shutter Gallery, where his current show, “Patterns of Light,” is on display.

For his first visit to Durango, Yamashita will attend a reception in his honor tonight at the gallery.

Most of the photos Open Shutter owner Dudley chose for “Patterns of Light” are spectacular landscapes from the interiors of China and Japan. The Chinese shots in particular reveal a fantastical world hidden from most Western eyes, many taken at national parks throughout the country.

“It’s my area of interest and expertise,” Yamashita said of China and the continent of Asia.

Born in San Francisco of Japanese heritage, Yamashita traveled to Japan soon after graduating from Wesleyan University. He lived in Asia for seven years, and after countless visits since, he’s now one of the world’s foremost authorities on the continent.

Yamashita has published nine books and many of them, including Marco Polo – A Photographer’s Journey, retrace the routes of ancient explorers. With image and word, Yamashita is a true photojournalist and historian.

Thanks to the exposure he’s gotten through National Geographic – the magazine and the television network – Yamashita has become perhaps the best-known photographer in Asia, and he’s not even from Asia.

In China, most, if not all, of the country’s early photography was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, so for the last 30-plus years, more Chinese people have seen Yamashita’s work than that of any other photographer.

“I guess I fill a void because I’ve got a huge following of people who know my name,” he said.

Yamashita’s show and visit is just the latest coup for Open Shutter, which is in the habit of showing the work of world-class photographers. The pieces on display were printed at his favorite facility in Hong Kong and were shipped here for “Patterns of Light.” Some were taken with film cameras, others digital.

Yamashita said he long resisted the conversion to new technology and was one of National Geographic’s last photographers to go digital.

“But I wish I’d switched earlier,” he said.

Donahue, the gallery manager, said Yamashita’s work is unique in photojournalism circles.

“What sets him apart from other Nat Geo guys is he’s very artistic,” Donahue said. “We wanted to do a beautiful landscape show, and he’s beautiful and elegant.”

Yamashita lives in rural New Jersey and will travel to Durango with his daughter for tonight’s reception. The exhibit will remain on display through Dec. 5.


If you go

The Open Shutter Gallery, 735 Main Ave., will host a reception from 5 to 8 p.m. today for photographer Michael Yamashita. Yamashita’s exhibit, “Patterns of Light,” will be on display through Dec. 5.

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