I was visiting the land of my birth, the motherland (if you will allow me to refer to it as such), the heart of it all, Ohio. This was in the mid-summer and I was there to visit friends and family but also to photograph a friend of mine from high school. While in Ohio I spent some time getting to know a Facebook friend and fellow PechaKucha organizer, Aiko, a bit better. We met for coffee and again for lunch at a small place with a nice patio in Olde Town East.
During lunch Aiko noticed the small tail of the tattoo on my left forearm (it looks like a smear of grease though it is the tail of 7th century Japanese watercolor dragon) and asked what it was...
She asked me what it was then blurted out happily, "wabi-sabi!' and I admit I had no idea of what she was speaking and once able to I began Googling.
It was as if a veil had been pulled over my eyes and I had been stumbling around with arms outstretched.
Wabi-sabi (侘寂 ) represents a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is "imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete".
This is an incredibly simple definition where the true meaning of both "wabi" and "sabi" are terms that hold generations of meaning, particularly when combined. Some, even most, people who say they understand wabi-sabi actually think "vintage" and while "vintage" anything does exist in the realm of wabi-sabi it is just a component.
What strikes me, what resonates with me, about wabi-sabi are two main points: Imperfection & impermanence. Life is imperfect. Life is not permanent and yet we strive for both perfection and the belief that things of this life are eternal...
I found more and more information about wabi-sabi and increasingly I felt a shift in myself. And then I thought what this shift might mean for my photography. I have always been hard on myself when it came to my photos as I continually wanted to create the "prefect" photo. That, I am coming to understand, was a fallacy and went against everything that resonates with me. What resonates in me is the beauty in imperfection, in mistakes, in impermanence.
I found a photo book whilst on my sojourn in Ohio, in Half Priced Books, that helped me realize the truth of wabi-sabi. Requiem: By the Photographers Who Died in Vietnam and Indochina by Tim Page and Horst Faas.
I sat there on my parent's sofa, a shitzu plopped in my lap competing for space with this, this tome. As I flipped through the pages of photographs, some "vintage" color, others black and white, all showing the age of film and hurried shutter fingers, that veil slipped a tad more. There, in those photos, I see wabi-sabi everywhere! Some photos, printed large and wonderful, are out of focus. Those on that page are grainy due to extreme lighting. These, these here? They are framed almost accidentally. And they perfectly told the story of life before and during this war for the many photographers who sought the stories that needed told. I felt compelled to see each photograph and sit with each for a moment to be in the story they told.
And each were imperfect photographs in some way or another.
I have been work to create photographs that are someone's definition of "perfect" when I should have, all this time, worked to create photographs that tell the story I want to tell in the way I want it told. Increasingly, that story is how imperfect I and this work are and how that in that imperfection I find beauty every day. I mention a "shift" in my Self in the previous post, this is that shift I speak of.
If you would like to learn more about wabi-sabi I suggest this page as it describes wabi-sabi well: http://nobleharbor.com/tea/chado/WhatIsWabi-Sabi.htm
Also, if you have not heard of a Thomasson yet and you enjoy the idea of wabi-sabi then definitely take a look Here. It is an intriguing principle and though it is not strictly wabi-sabi I like to think of it as a distant cousin. If nothing else, the story is great! Thommassons are named after an American baseball player who went to play in Japan. And failed. I mean, REALLY failed.
Enjoy imperfection. See the beauty of an item's use and history, and revel in the wrinkles of happenstance. For me? I will be creating imperfect photographs that will be lost to time and the aether.