‘souls do not inhabit nature; they are nature itself’ (Cazenave, 2012).
There is an old Japanese phrase: Kachou Fuugetsu which directly translates to 'Flower, Bird, Wind, Moon' meaning ‘to experience the beauty of nature, and in doing so learn about yourself’ . This ancient philosophical proverb stems from Fuushi Kaden in the 1400s. It is considered to be one of the major concepts in Japanese aesthetics and interrelates with other major aesthetic concepts such as Wabi-Sabi (the beauty of imperfection), 'Shizen' (nature and naturalness) and 'Mono-no-aware' (an empathy towards things).
Thinking about photography in relation to nature, Japanese pictorialism was articulated by the concepts of ‘shizen to no yūgō’ (fusion with nature) and ‘shizen ni jūjun nar’ (submission to nature), which are inherently linked to the themes and structural brevity of Haiku poetry. 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 Shinzō continually referenced shizen ni jūjun nar 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, 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).
Whilst differing visually, my work is informed by, and shares, the philosophical articulation of Japanese Pictorialism and its connections to the themes and brevity of Haiku poetry. My photographs of nature share Japanese Pictorialism’s articulation, however, they are ambiguous to the genre because they do not subscribe to its traditional painterly, nebulous and nostalgic material aesthetics. Pictorialists have traditionally manipulated prints with brushes, inks or pigments. Due to the tactile nature of Pictorialism, the chemical processes (Bromoil, Carbon print, Gum bichromate, Oil print, Platinum and Palladium etc.), visible brush strokes, textured papers, monotonality and soft-focus more akin to drawings and paintings as opposed to sharp realism of photography. My approach is to make images that speak philosophically with minimal content and amplify the essence of impermanence.
Cazenave, Jon (2020). Galerna. EXB/Dalpine 1st Edition.
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.