Ian Talbot: Retrospective – Leaf Spears :: The Natural Order

Chapter 42 of the ongoing series Ian Talbot : Retrospective by British fine art photographer Ian Talbot.

Leaf Spears :: The Natural Order

© Ian Talbot

“While reading haiku, I have often sensed a visual perception that must be at work while the poet writes. The haiku form, in its conciseness and with its candid expression of detail, reminds us of what is also necessary in photography. We reach into nature, frame poised and focus selective. Then with shutter-speed response, we freeze the fleeting moment—leaving just enough unsaid for the viewer to add or extract at will. There is a subtle collaboration between artist and audience — and so it is with appreciating a haiku.

…We were separated only by three centuries and the breadth of a blade of grass, and I sensed Bashó at my side.”
A Haiku Journey, Dennis Stock

Yesterday I heard, with sadness, of the passing last week of Dennis Stock. A member of Magnum, Stock was a photographer whose quiet, unassuming work I had always admired. Even if you had never heard of him it is most likely that you are aware of at least one example of his work; probably his most famous photograph was the iconic 1955 image of James Dean in Time Square most well known in reproduction as a poster by Gottfried Helnwein entitled “Boulevard Of Broken Dreams”.

In 1974 Stock made the images for the book “A Haiku Journey”, for which he followed the path of “The Narrow Road to the Far North” traveled by the 17th century Japanese poet Basho, whose haikus he illustrated along the way.

Reading Stock’s thoughts on haikus and his photography my own thoughts wandered to my “Natural Order” set of images. While it is true that I tend to agree with Stock’s analogies and I must confess that I have always felt drawn to a certain simplicity and elegance inherent in the Japanese visual sensibility I certainly didn’t have any haikus in mind when I created the set; nor did I specifically link my approach to any spurious (mis)understanding of “Zen philosophy” as such. If there are any links it is purely the coincidence that I sought a simplicity in my images without losing a certain sense of “magic”, for want of a better word. I suppose that could be seen as some sort of tenuous link.

This whole issue, however, raises, for me at least, some larger issues. Could I, as a “gaijin”, an outsider, a “non Japanese” ever achieve more than a passing or superficial understanding of the whole mindset, the utterly unique outlook and sensibility of a native Japanese? I suspect not… Therefore any attempt to “illustrate” haikus must ultimately be doomed to failure. Sure I could maybe “ape” a certain “look” that may be suggestive of a Japanese visual sense but it must surely be merely a “look” stripped of all meaning or significance. In the end, it must be a completely futile endeavour. Not to mention, at least for me, a slightly disrespectful and distasteful endeavour also…

    Ian Talbot

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