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Man Forgets the Earth Remembers

The Photography of Robert Kato –

Robert Kato’s photography is about finding beauty in the most unlikely anythings and anywheres. The images from his San Francisco Bay series “Man Forgets the Earth Remembers” are neither Kodak moments nor hero shots, but tributes to the grandeur of common places and the singularity of the ordinary. These bayside landscapes speak to the most quotidian of scenarios that under the watchful eye of Kato become opulent photographic renderings.

Kato pursues his images with both controlled precision and serendipitous intent. He purposes only to be present, a certain place at a chosen hour, trusting that the images will come. Then, from the moment the vision alights on his lens it will go through a rigorous process of selection, calculated tweaking, and imbuing of the RAW file into a technical tour de force. Deliberate shutter speeds expose new colors, surprising details, sharpening the atmosphere while slurring movement, the camera’s giant owl eye casting a preternatural light on these seemingly mundane cultural landscapes.

Robert became digital after looking up some old friends who were now “doing it” commercially. “They showed me their new digital darkroom” he says. “They had a Radius monitor, a power PC and Photoshop 2.5. Things you couldn’t do with photography, they were doing with Photoshop. All of my earlier aspirations of wanting to be a painter came flooding back.” His first first digital camera was given to him by his friend, Son Do, co-founder and CTO of Rods and Cones. It was a first generation, Sony DSC-T1 (I admit, I’ve never heard of it) and he cut his printer’s teeth on an IRIS 3024 back when people were doing inkjet printing using iris technology before color profiles or screen calibration… before…a lot of stuff. As the technology continued to advance, he continued to be an early adopter.

Today his studio sports 44? and 24? Epson wide format printers, both on loan from Do, as well as smaller models. He uses them not only for his own work but for the business he has started with fellow photographer, Larry Stueck, that specializes in post production consulting workshops for fine art and commercial photographers.

That is how I met RK, when he helped me turn some sow’s ears into Ilford Gold Silk. And although sometimes he looks at me so searchingly that it makes me nervous about just what he might be seeing… I just try to scuttle quickly around behind him so as to see what he is looking at instead…

Take the spontaneous canine dance of Three Dog Vortex. Like ancient guardians these three hounds swirl round a puddle amid a landscape that appears to have been in wait since the beginning of creation. An ordinary pool of water becomes a portal to another world, not unlike like the mirror Alice stepped through on that fateful day.

Following Her Path offers another enigmatic view into parallel universes. It first strikes me as the simplest compositions: white above, black below. An empty morning sky, too weak still, to chase away the night, then gives way to the earth and a jungle of dried fennel stems rooted below. Dead center, there’s a path, and this passageway appears to head both towards the sunrise and deeper into the darkness at the same time. Think of a strange loop turning the perceived world inside out; the ant on the mobius strip coming and going at the same time. Much like Alice’s extraordinary journey brings her safely back to where she begins so The Path begs us to explore the fine line that divides the darkness from the light, the arrival from the departure.

“There is a shift from one level of abstraction to another, which feels like an upwards movement in a hierarchy, and yet somehow the successive “upward” shifts turn out to give rise to a closed cycle. That is, despite one’s sense of departing ever further from one’s origin, one winds up, to one’s shock, exactly where one had started out.”Douglas HofstadterI am a Strange Loop


  1. Very interesting and thought provoking images. Mr. Kato takes photography to higher level.

  2. When you look at Mr. Kato’s photographs, you can’t help but being transported to a magic place. His compositions are quiet and simple, and yet full of meaning and complexity. It is that contradiction that makes his work so interesting. You find something different every time you take a look at an image, and you feel like a kid being surprised over and over by those rich layers that make up his photographs.

  3. Guy Zimmerman says:

    Nice post, Naomi, and very cool photographs. I always love hearing artists who know what they’re talking about discuss the work of others. So much more informative than “objective” critics. Keep it up!

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