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photo-eye Book Reviews: Ask the Cat

Ask the Cat, Photographs by Satoru Toma.
Published by Le Caillou Bleu, 2011.
Ask the Cat
Reviewed by Tom Leininger
Satoru Toma Ask the Cat
Photographs by Satoru Toma. Text by Caroline Lamarche & Jean-Louis Godefroid
Le Caillou Bleu, 2011. Hardbound. 88 pp., 42 color illustrations, 11-1/4x8-3/4".

In Ask the Cat, Satoru Toma wanders the area surrounding Brussels as a cat would -- straying into open areas, crawling through the underbrush of the woods and along the edges of society -- looking for photographs. He is drawn to the warm sharp light specific to the region. The light and various histories of the landscapes are used to create a mixture of portraits, and shots of semi-urban and rural settings in color.

Toma is a Japanese photographer who was educated in France. In an interview with Jean-Louis Godefroid at the end of the book, Toma says that he became interested in fine arts while living in Marseille. He goes on to site the Flemish painters as an influence. The photographs have the feel of traditional European landscape paintings mixed with New Topographics school of thought. This mixture of schools produces work that straddles two time periods of art. Clearly, Toma is drawn to the warm light of the region, but forgoes it in places for the more neutral light that allows the man made objects to be described fully.

Ask the Cat, by Satoru Toma. Published by Le Caillou Bleu, 2011.
One example of this confluence of styles shows a potted pine tree decorated with pinwheels standing next to a pair of garden gnomes and another empty pot in a narrow backyard with a construction crane and factory off in the distance. The light in the image is strong and cold at the same time. It feels like fall or winter, but the tree is a bright lively spot in a rather desolate place. The light clearly shows the Flemish influence. The humor in the scene brightens what appears to be a bit of a shabby area. Scenes like these are when his work is at its strongest.

Ask the Cat, by Satoru Toma. Published by Le Caillou Bleu, 2011.
When studying the landscape, Toma creates quiet contemplative scenes where the only sounds come from the wind blowing the grass or trees. He goes deep into the forest to find the tall thin trees bathed in light or forest floor covered in white flowers. It is clear that Toma is comfortable with both the majesty of the land and what man has created. Toma's historically informed photographs are what give the book depth and strength. His wanderings show the viewer the beauty that lies at the edge.

Ask the Cat, by Satoru Toma. Published by Le Caillou Bleu, 2011.
As an object, the book is comfortable. The images are large enough on the page for the viewer to explore, but the book is not too cumbersome to handle. One of the few drawbacks of the book is that the printing appears a bit varied and the color is uneven in places. Overall, the book as a whole rises above these few technical flaws.—TOM LEININGER

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TOM LEININGER is a photographer and educator based in Denton, Texas. He received his MFA in photography from the University of North Texas. Prior to that he was a newspaper photographer in Indiana. His work can be found at