japonisme: 7/1/07 - 7/8/07

07 July 2007

i was talking to someone about this blog yesterday. she was quite knowledgeable about asian art, and about photography as well. when i mentioned the influence of japanese prints on stieglitz's photos, she asked, sceptically, did

stieglitz say that directly?
well who wasn't sceptical when they first started learning about japonisme? i know i was. but i did some research anyway, and here is what i found. no, i could not find one quote by steiglitz about

japanese prints.
but, he did have an enormous collection of them. and his wife talked about her work being strongly influenced by them. and the man who first gave him a

camera, post, admitted to being strongly influenced by them. and, lastly, all of the protegés who stieglitz featured in his groundbreaking magazine camera work, or in his equally groundbreaking gallery, credit japanese art for having had strong influences on their own.

so in the end, at least at this point, one can only infer. but stronger than any found quote is the ability to believe one's own eyes.

here are some of the things that my eyes see, that weren't found in western art before the mid-1800s when the contact with japan was reestablished: i see (starting at the top) the center of the image not being the essential focus.

i see diagonal paths leading the eye to far-off distances. i see entire pieces where the frame is split almost perfectly diagonally, with one-half being nearly empty. and again, i see the diagonals.

to study hiroshige, for example, is to study diagonal construction. to study stieglitz is the same thing.

other things i see are the large foreground elements, often diagonal themselves. among other things, these serve as frames.

they may keep things in a perspective through which the artist wishes to communicate something.

it is one of the ele- ments that was strongly picked up in the graphic arts of the period as well.

some- times the fore- ground ele-

ment can act as a contrast to shapes in the background, straight lines to rolling hillocks, to domes.

sometimes it is tone playing upon tone, shape upon shape. note how the background trees in sadanobu's image serve much the same purpose as do the background buildings in stieglitz's; even the shapes have resonance.

and some- times it is mere- ly the love of beauty, and the abandonment of the need to make the image seem 'flawless,' while at the same time revealing its perfection.

in the end, we must admit that not all artists who were strenuously influenced by the 'new ways of seeing' (which occurred as a result of the fresh vision from a culture that had developed for over 200 years with no outside influence), admitted it. who knows if they were even aware. some were, obviously, but when perception shifts, it's all too easy to assume it's an internal shift rather than an external one.

but an outsider with a century's perspective can see it plain as day, and can see the process still, to this day, unfolding.

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06 July 2007


[photographers in the photo- seccession movement found] aesthetic inspir- ation for ... pictorial photo- graphy from Japanese prints, creating photo- graphs with rich, tonal qualities, asymmetrical compositions, and a lyrical poeticism.

...[M]any painters, photographers, and designers of [the] day, [were] influenced by Japanese aesthetics... [with a] style of photography [that] emulated Japanese aesthetics and compositions.

[M]any photographers in Stieglitz's circle [were] strongly influenced by ukiyo-e prints (translated as pictures of the floating world), which celebrated the delights of life during the Edo period (1600-1868) in Japan. Upon the opening of trade with Japan in the 1850s, Japanese art began circulating in the West and influencing Western art circles.1

Stieglitz argued that photo- graphers dealt with the same concerns that modern painters considered. Translating the influence of Japanese prints from painting and printmaking to photography was both a modern and an artistic thing to do.2

(clearly, none of these photographs emulate the pattern and design of the japanese prints; indeed, perhaps these are a better examination of japonairerie than japonisme. still, they're mostly shot by stieglitz's photo-seccession circle, which only goes to show that really nobody was immune to the beauty of kimono.)

read more

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05 July 2007


The Archer is wake!
The Swan is flying!
Gold against blue
An Arrow is lying.
There is hunting in heaven--
Sleep safe till tomorrow.

The Bears are abroad!
The Eagle is screaming!
Gold against blue
Their eyes are gleaming!
Sleep safe till tomorrow.

The Sisters lie
With their arms intertwining;
Gold against blue
Their hair is shining!
The Serpent writhes!
Orion is listening!
Gold against blue
His sword is glistening!
There is hunting in heaven--
Sleep safe till tomorrow.

William Carlos Williams


There is a bird in the poplars!
It is the sun!
The leaves are little yellow fish
swimming in the river.
The bird skims above them,
day is on his wings.
It is he that is making
the great gleam among the poplars!
It is his singing
outshines the noise
of leaves clashing in the wind.

William Carlos Williams

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04 July 2007


03 July 2007



Feign a great calm;

all gay transport soon ends.

Chant: who knows—

flight's end or flight's beginning

for the resting gull?

Heart, be still.

Say there is money but it rusted;

say the time of moon is not right for escape.

It's the color in the lower sky

too broadly suffused,

or the wind in my tie.

Know amazedly how

often one takes his madness

into his own hands

and keeps it.

Lorine Niedecker

From Lorine Niedecker: Collected Works by Lorine Niedecker, © 2002 The Regents of the University of California, University of California Press.

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02 July 2007

a letter

Ezra Pound

While my hair was still cut straight
across my forehead
I played about the front gate,
pulling flowers.
You came by on bamboo stilts, playing horse,
You walked about my seat,
playing with blue plums.
And we went on living
in the village of Chokan:
Two small people, without dislike or suspicion.

At fourteen I married My Lord you.
I never laughed, being bashful.
Lowering my head, I looked at the wall.
Called to, a thousand times,
I never looked back.

At fifteen I stopped scowling,
I desired my dust to be mingled with yours
Forever and forever and forever.
Why should I climb the look out?

At sixteen you departed,
You went into far Ku-to-yen,
by the river of swirling eddies,
And you have been gone five months.
The monkeys make
sorrowful noise overhead.

You dragged your feet when you went out.
By the gate now, the moss is grown,
the different mosses,
Too deep to clear them away!
The leaves fall early this autumn, in wind.
The paired butterflies are already
yellow with August
Over the grass in the West garden;

They hurt me. I grow older.
If you are coming down through the narrows of the river Kiang,
Please let me know beforehand,
And I will come out to meet you
As far as Cho-fu-Sa.


("The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter" is based on the first of Li Po's "Two Letters from Chang-Kan." Copyright © 1956, 1957 by Ezra Pound. this clearly international phenomenon ranged from the light-hearted to the profound. ezra pound, another imagist, translated japanese and chinese poems into english, which helped popularize the forms in the west. the image at the upper right, i found here.)

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01 July 2007

green green green


The sky was apple-green,
The sky was

green wine held up in the sun,
The moon was a golden petal between.

She opened her eyes, and green
They shone, clear like flowers undone,
For the first time, now for the first time seen.

d h lawrence

(d h lawrence was also considered
an imagist poet.)

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