Since 1995, Watanabe has been traveling the world with a vintage, film-based camera, photographing the sights that pique his curiosity, and developing his negatives into the exquisite silver gelatin prints for which he is known. Six years ago, with the birth of his son, his life and his art shifted dramatically. He took a break from what he terms his “clunky” Hasselblad and started using a digital camera to photograph his family, as well as the fleeting, fragile moments—a dead bird, insects, his son’s shadow, bright persimmons capped with snow—that he suddenly found himself drawn to. These contemplative, intimate photographs have recently been published in a monograph, titled The Day the Dam Collapses (2014), and are currently on view at photo-eye Gallery in an exhibition of the same name.
The works in this series are driven by the artist’s keen awareness of human mortality, by his sense that we all live out our lives under the shadow of impending and inevitable disaster. Watanabe wrote in the portfolio’s introduction, “We know we may some day face a disaster or a terrible event, but we keep living calmly because we do not know exactly what might occur and when it would be.” And he furthers, elucidating the series’ title: “We are like people living at the base of a dam that has no outlet for the water that is filling it … We are only vaguely aware that the dam will collapse some day when it cannot hold the weight of the water any longer.”
In the face of such disaster, Watanabe photographs. He captures the ephemeral moments he finds all around him, while knowing that even as he presses down on the shutter, they are already slipping away.