Sunday, May 13, 2012

Hokusai (and Hiroshige) Moments, or, On Learning How to See

Hiroshige (1797-1858) and Hokusai (1760-1849), two famed ukiyo-e masters, are partially known for their Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji series (both produced such collections) in which they depict that iconic volcano through diverse perspectives.

Whether up-close--only heavenly clouds can break that sheer viscerality that assaults the viewer,

or from a distance viewed as an appendage to a landscape as seen from under a bridge,

  across Tago Bay in its subtle dominance,

or through the crest of a wave (Great Wave off Kanagawa is the most famous print in Hokusai's series),

Mount Fuji captivates the imagination...but even more so, in my view, when depicted in a variety if seasonal vignettes, such as during Hanami (Cherry Blossom Festival)

or during winter, when tea at the chashitsu (teahouse) is most welcome.

Today, after a much needed break from grading (umm...perhaps it really was a break from procrastination), I moved the Japanese lantern from the bed formerly know as "The Lantern Bed" where it was increasingly obstructed from view by the Oakleaf and Lady-in-Red Hydrangeas, to the back of the property in the as-yet-unnamed bed.

There it now sits, a veritable Fuji in my garden, prominent in a subtle kind of way.

Multiple photographs of the same subject, especially when taken from similar vantage points, might strike one as exceedingly dull. It probably is.

But artists like Hokusai and Hiroshige were compelled to fixate on an object, thereby turning it into a subject of study, precisely because we learn and grow when we fashion the time and space and the mental acuity to examine that subject even from subtle shifts in perspective.

Light changes our perception of the subject.

Visual trajectories that take in different objects, or variations in such trajectories (or angles of study) that alter, even subtly, the objects themselves visually re-situate the subject in its environment in ways that illuminate its relationship with objects around it.

A wide shot reduces the lantern to one of several subjects which animate the garden and reveal a theme much more widely diffused
than a segmented shot that situates the lantern and Guacamole Hosta in a particular kind of axial affiliation.

Or this west side and corner bed shot: the presence of the lantern refocuses our gaze not on it, but on variation of foliage color, shape, and texture. The leaves of Big Blue Hosta appear thick, even from this distance, while the Nandina foliage, just above the unmistakable leaves of Oak Leaf Hydrangea in the photo, is wispy; its alias, Heavenly Bamboo, seems apt even from "up here."

Views of lantern: my Hiroshige or Hokusai moment when I learn not just to look but to see...

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