Monday, March 5, 2012

Haiku and photography VI

At work in the art library today, I came across this beautiful book of photographs: Naksan by Korean photographer Boomoon. It's a series of black-and-white photos of a storm-swept beachbreak. I think that they first appealed to me because the ocean they show looks very familiar -- not the perfect, air-brushed waves of a surf magazine or the raging, dramatic seas of shipwreck drama. Just the kind of normal, sloppy, unremitting ocean that any beach bum or surfer has watched for hours and hours on end, waiting for the prettier days to come.

That made the photos appeal to me in a haiku-aesthetic kind of way, in the way that they chronicled a sequence of regular moments and were not conventionally beautiful or overtly dramatic. The book ends with an essay by Shino Kuraishi (about whom I know nothing, unfortunately). The essay begins:

"Long ago, there was a term in Zen Buddhism, genjô, which has been translated as "actualization" or "realization." It refers to things manifesting themselves before our eyes as they are, appearing in a raw, unprocessed form. By all rights, the photographic apparatus was well suited to reproducing this ultimate ideal, the unadorned, unvarnished manifestation of things. But photography has produced no more than a mere semblance or pseudo-actualization, and all too often has degenerated into the realm of fiction where the "thing as it is" becomes "something it is not," providing ample evidence of repeated disgrace."

The opening of this quote speaks directly to the way that haiku and photography have often seemed like beautiful partners to me. As the quote continues, though, it also unintentionally points out a limitation that can plague haiku practice if taken too strictly -- a prejudice against presenting anything other than the 'thing as it is.' While such haiku can be the most sublime examples of the form, not every one has to be a somber sermon. Some imagination, some humor, some adornment are necessary to liven things up, to keep us fresh enough to appreciate the more subtle, serious moments that otherwise might become monotonous. And besides, sometimes the thing-as-it-is IS imaginative, deceptive, varnished, adorned, etc., and there's no disgrace in that...

In any case, this is a beautifully produced book put out in 2010 by Nazraeli Press. I'm looking forward to seeking out more of Boomoon's work.

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