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Review: Matter and spirit, as pictured by Yamamoto Masao

The photographs of Yamamoto Masao are expansive to the mind, even as they are utterly reductive to the eye. They are straightforward, even taxonomic in their informational clarity, and yet they leave room for interpretation.

Their subjects derive from geology and botany, but they easily dialogue with spirituality and poetry.

In his newest work, "Shizuka=Cleanse," at Craig Krull, Yamamoto photographs stones and tree branches as isolated, sculptural forms against dark, indeterminate grounds. The images are mounted on aluminum and unframed, presented with pristine purity.

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A gorgeous collection of the Japanese photographer's earlier work, mostly landscapes, hangs in a gallery apart from the new pieces and reinforces the sense of distillation in "Shizuka." One smooth-skinned chunk of wood evokes the sensual dips and rises of a torso on its side. Stones are dimpled, cratered, pitted or smooth. One suggests a face with sunken cheek. Another looks lunar. Others evoke pure movement: leap, stretch, twist.

Yamamoto plays up these associations in titles that refer to literal corollaries, likening a stone all in shadow but for its illuminated tip to Mt. Fuji, and a multi-pronged branch to the mythical figure of Pegasus. These labels are slightly intrusive, acting to close down meditation upon the subject rather than opening it up. Considering the images for their grace, texture and form alone is plenty, and reveals the continuity between the particular and the universal, matter and spirit.

Craig Krull Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 828-6410, through April 5. Closed Sunday and Monday. www.craigkrullgallery.com

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