Kurokawa Suizan, ca.1906. Untitled.

In Small Things in Silence (2020), Jacobo Sireula says Masao Yamamoto's photos evoke: “That original, natural state of being that transports our deepest imagination to the lost world from which we were torn centuries ago, whose reality still awakens in us a strange and vague unconscious desire to go back to the origin - the return to ourselves.”.

Fukuhara Shinzō said photography ‘articulated’ visually the emotions or moods triggered by experiencing nature. In 1923, Nakajima Kenkichi said the 'ideal' of photography was a “fusion with nature” (shizen to no yūgō) - this represented a core idea that belonged to this movement and alongside the goal of making visible the artist’s inner feelings lead to Fuchikami Hakuyo’s belief that  ‘the ultimate purpose of the viewing of nature is to discover the emotion of abstracted nature‘. In essays attempting to articulate Japanese Pictorialism, Fukuhara continually referenced shizen ni jūjun nar (submission to nature) as an inherent quality of Japanese identity epitomised by the Haiku of Matsuo Bashö (considered Japan’s ‘greatest nature poet’). Fukuhara Shinzō claimed Haiku as the very essence of ‘Japanese-ness’ and enthused: ‘photographers must live in Bashö’s heart. Basho’s heart has lived a long time in us, and photographic expression is giving structure in form to a nature poem [in the manner of Bashö]’ (Fraser, 2014:220).

By making strong connections between pictorialism and ancient Haiku poetry, Fukuhara essentially defined Japanese Pictorialism as visual Haiku. Fukuhara’s essays also frequently cited a phrase (with unclear origins) – “A poem is a formless picture; a picture is a soundless poem,” to explain ‘(haiku)...had the ability to elicit a strong emotional resonance within the constraints of an abbreviated structure, it made an apt parallel to pictorial photography’ (ibid). Haiku has a standard form of just seventeen syllables to elicit one simple and evocative verse with a larger appeal and Fukuhara believed Japanese photographers should be striving to achieve this in Pictorialism – “like the beauty cleverly captured in the form of a simple poem formed from three phrases, produced in a haiku state of mind, avoiding complex representation and recreating the impression of the moment, with a motive close to haiku.” (Fraser, 2014:220). The brevity of Haiku could be likened to the essence-based aspects of the modern-day ‘social photo’ - Nathan Jurgenson quoted Scott McCloud when likening the messages in social photos to cartoon speech bubbles by way of ‘amplification through simplification’, (McCloud in Jurgenson, 2019:19).

My images do not subscribe to the traditional painterly, nebulous and nostalgic material aesthetics of Pictorialism, however, I like to think my photographs of nature are informed by, and share, the philosophical articulation of Japanese Pictorialism and its connections to the themes and brevity of Haiku poetry. My approach is to make images that speak philosophically around nature, minimally and amplify the essence of impermanence.

Fraser, Karen, M. 2014. Fukuhara Shinzō and the “Japanese” Pictorial Aesthetic. Review of Japanese Culture and Society, Dec.2014, Vol. 26, Commensurable Distinctions: Intercultural Negotiations of Modern and Contemporary Japanese Visual Culture (Dec. 2014), pp. 209-227.

Jurgenson, Nathan (2019) The Social Photo: On Photography and other Social Media. Verso

Yamamoto, Masao. (2020) Introduction by Jacobo Seruila. Small Things in Silence. RM Verlag SL; 1st edition.