impermanence in the art of street photography

from nothing to nothing, the journey is celebrated for its imperfections, and in some way, the transitory markings we make, or impact upon, other people and things. within this impact, one can realise the concept of Mono No Aware, or the pathos of things [ link ].

« The phrase is derived from the Japanese word mono (物), which means "thing", and aware (哀れ), which was a Heian period expression of measured surprise (similar to "ah" or "oh"), translating roughly as "pathos", "poignancy", "deep feeling", or "sensitivity", or "awareness".  »

Japan is not the only place to observe the impermanence of things, though it offers a contrast to Western art and design, where minimalism and perfection are intertwined. 

these days, it is not a foreign concept that any given culture is going to discover everything it needs, nor is it going to have all encompassing definitions. rather, we are born into our personalities, and in some cases, elements of ourselves must find a definition outside our native culture and/or language. intuitively, we can understand a persence, or a way we do things, which have yet to be described properly. we can successfully go through life without finding out these succinct terms, or definitions, and appreciate when we do find them in greater measure with age. in language, we readily adopt foreign words to describe succinctly a modern emotion, action, or term. 

in visiting Japan, and coincidentally beginning to watch movies by Yasujiro Ozu, the terms of wabi-sabi and mono no aware were as innate as the concepts of breathing and drinking water: they just needed to be alerted, recognized, and then conveniently found in the same physical location. once recognized, it provided a means to offer an imperfect description of such an implicit understanding present throughout life. thus, Japan is a protagonist in this book project in how it offers impermanence and imperfection in everyday objects. 

more importantly, it becomes a form of "street photography" in which the presence of people are photographed for their indelible mark and implicit presence; all the while the emotion of that transitory — even fleeting — presence is sought to be represented in a photo.

what is harmonious in Japan, as attempted in these photos, can be seen as highly contrasting elements in outside cultures. this contrast is then an underlying concept in the sequencing of photos, which is best approached in book form. as many other cameras were used during the trip, it is the case that more photos need to be integrated and/or replaced in the project as it stands right now. thus, the gallery samples photos in this project are curated from a mobile photography perspective, and all selected photos available site [ link ].

from movies to photography

yes, paintings was the medium that informed photography in the early days, and perhaps would choke it to death, but for some photographers at the turn of the 20th Century that said... “hey, discover this.” 

in a simplification for the internets, and my bias of photography, these trails were dominated by Edward Weston [ link ] in one direction, and Paul Strand [ link ] in another. outside America, André Kertész [ link ] would be another force in this movement away from the grips of the painterly... and to “hey, discover this”.

perhaps for many in my generation, it is easier to watch movies throughout a longer period of life, thus an earlier start, than it is to be educated into the canon of photographers that began what we know as photography today.

in my case, Orson Well’s Citizen Kane made me take note of composition, and since I could not go after a movie camera, the question became: can I do that with photography? the magnificence of light, and Black and White tonality, would come at a later date. for now, I was tranced by the composition. in particular, the entrance into this scene:



perhaps it would have been Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Passion of Joan of Arc to offer the composition knock out, or German Expressionism since Fritz Lang’s « M » was also a knockout. however, silent film and early talkies were not something I sought in movies until recently.

many years passed since Citizen Kane until I was to be as shocked again about movies as inspiration for photography, though certainly many movies were appreciated for their cinematography in the interim — not the least The Godfather, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Blade Runner —  despite the growing loudness and in-your-face approach taken by Hollywood; this loudness and obviousness is not only visually, but also with scripts/dialogue.

then, a one two punch with The Double Life of Veronique by (the much missed) Krzysztof Kieszlowski [ link ], and In The Mood for Love by Wong Kar-Wai. for the first time, colour was revealed as a useful tool in a photograph, that is, used as a language that felt rather intuitively correct and emotive. in a way, colour was not illustrating the frame, it was offering a layered translation over the composition and use of light: colour, like composition and tonality, was an emotive element in synch with my view of a frame.

meanwhile, from the late 1920’s, Yasujirō Ozu [ link ] in Japan was beginning to develop an impressive body of work, starting with silent movies in the late 1920s. a total of 53 films were made by Ozu, and 26 in his first five years.  

fast-forward to Ozu’s Floating Weeds, itself a remake from his silent film era,  and one of his four colour movies and done a couple of years before his death. then there is this scene:

which can be contrasted, many years later, to Wong Kar-Wai’s:

Christopher Doyle (cinematographer for In The Mood For Love), presents an insight that can apply to both cases:

«  what happens in Western Cinema is “look at this, you are so stupid, you don’t know what we are trying to tell you, let me tell you something”... and we say “hey, discover this”. » — [ link ]

this idea is relevant in spite of Doyle having a completely opposite attitude towards camera placement/movement to Ozu. since Ozu controlled the direction and composition, as well as co-writing the script, more of his vision makes it into the final frame. two key concepts seem to be often referenced to Ozu’s work.

Kieszlowski practiced these Western Cinema values, but Ozu cinematically propelled, in his movies, the photographic composition — via a stationary camera — and the idea of mono no aware ( “the pathos of things” ) [ link ] in a patina of wabi-sabi [ link ]. a stationary camera/scene has an immediate impact to a photographer seeing his movies — a non-photographic mind my relate to a fixed scene as what happens in a theater.

these teachings from Ozu then inform a longer journey into one’s own photography, which perhaps started with a big bang of Citizen Kane. the idea then evolves into achieving a shift from “omg, look at this photo!!1!1!” to a more calm “hey, discover this photograph,” which is proxy to discover the photographer: a much richer experience, most certainly.