Imperfect Moments: Embracing Wabi

Yoshiro Fukukawa, Gallerist , Blitz Gallery

As globalization advanced and neoliberal thinking began to permeate the world, many in Japan found themselves rediscovering the traditional culture and aesthetics of their homeland—with their affinity for coexistence with nature—as an alternative to the preoccupation with economic growth. Lifestyle and interior design magazines began carrying features on Japanese architecture, gardens, temples and shrines, and tea ceremony. Photographers, too, frequently incorporated aspects of meditation, healing, or acceptance of fate into their works; often as not, however, their images only referenced surface details and were good for hanging on walls, but not much more.

The four photographers you will encounter here have all internalized the essence of traditional Japanese aesthetics. To them, it is not the photograph itself that is important, but the process by which it is reached. Although they take different approaches, the tremendous intensity of concentration that all of them pour into their work make their creative endeavors very much akin to the act of meditation. There is a connection as well to Zen and to its emphasis on living in the here and now, released from the fetters of the past and future.

Interestingly enough, the four’s ages seem to have a bearing on their choice of subjects. The older two, Kazuumi Takahashi and Mikio Hasui, work in close community with nature. By contrast, Kazuto Ishikawa and Naoki Shimomoto, being children of the digital age, seek forms of expression that shake off analog conventions: both draw on motifs from close around them to achieve abstract documentary photography that skillfully utilizes digital techniques.

The Japanese concept of wabi finds beauty in imperfection. At its heart is a spirit of seeing the negative as the positive—of turning the knowledge that we all must someday die into the inspiration to live all the more fully in the moment, for example. Our four photographers strongly share this spirit, for surely that explains why they persevere to invest such an immense amount of energy and resources into their art even in these financially trying times.

Takahashi’s High Tide Wane Moon series focuses on the contrast between the moon and the night sea. Here we see the meditative peace of the ocean, as captured through time-lapse exposure, juxtaposed against the waning moon and its suggestion of the mutability of all things.
The selections from Hasui’s life work, Peace Land series of panoramic photographs, portray the ocean horizon; the serene, sweeping color seascapes intuitively lure us out of the everyday into the cosmic flow of time.
Ishikawa presents a colorfully abstract take on the urban scene. Layering together multiple images of people and cityscapes, he takes conscious advantage of the accidental results to explode conventional notions of photography.
Finally, Shimomoto’s Deserted Memories series documents the flip side of Japan’s economic prosperity. These images from dilapidated Tohoku fishing villages reveal to us the beauty of unexpectedly graphical, vivid, and pop colors. The photographer’s stance of extracting new artistic possibilities even from amid desolation shares much with the spirit of wabi.

( Translated by Chikako Imoto )

Blitz Gallery website