Wabi-Sabi 1, photograph
A funny thing happened this week – one of those whimsical coincidences that can reveal. I read a book that had been recommended by Donna Watson on her wonderful blog Layers. The book is Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers by Leonard Koren. In it I found a phrase the not only resonated with me strongly but was the exact same phrase that had been used by Robert Adams which was the inspiration for my last blog posting. I realized that my previous posting had mysteriously foreshadowed this book and that there was a theme here for me to explore further.
Here is the quote from Koren:
“The simplicity of wabi-sabi is probably best described as the state of grace arrived at by a sober, modest, heartfelt intelligence. The main strategy of this intelligence is economy of means. Pare down the essence but don’t remove the poetry”
There’s that phrase again – economy of means. Why was it haunting me?
First, what is wabi-sabi? I won’t attempt to explain it fully here (Koren’s book does a wonderful job of that) but basically it is a fundamental Japanese aesthetic of beauty. In his introduction Koren describes wabi-sabi:
“Wabi-sabi is a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. It is a beauty of things modest and humble. It is a beauty of things unconventional.”
I have always been drawn to photographing objects in some state of deterioration. I’d rather shoot an old, decaying building than a new shiny one, a beat up old car than this year’s model, an antique rather than something just made. I never understood what appealed to me in these objects and sometimes felt self-conscious pursuing them.
The concept of wabi-sabi has given me a context within which to consider these subjects. Koren discusses some of the metaphysical, spiritual, moral and emotional foundations of this interesting aesthetic. For example, a metaphysical aspect is “things are devolving toward, or evolving from, nothingness”, while a moral precept is “get rid of all that is unnecessary”. The economy of means phrase refers to the unpretentious simplicity vs. materialistic complexity that is also fundamental to wabi-sabi.
I like the idea that what and how I photograph can cause me to think about the world around me in a more conscious manner. I have a feeling a wabi-sabi series is in my future.