A friend recently suggested that many of the things I make have something of the spirit of the Japanese idea of wabi-sabi – had I had the term? I had, but I wasn’t sure exactly what it meant so I looked it up.
Wabi-sabi is a term rich with many layers of meaning, but could be summed up as an aesthetic celebrating the beauty in transience, impermanence, and imperfection. Well, yes, I thought, many of my photographs are about looking for beauty in moments embodying much of this.
I’ve been intending to do some more work with found audio for a while, and this post has a little sample. Ironically, it is just that – a post! In this case – a metal gate post beside the road up to Craigowl hill in the Sidlaws. I’ve often noticed that when the wind is in the right direction, this particular post has a lot to say. I suppose this is not surprising, the post is basically a meter high metal tube with a couple of holes placed rather like those on a flute.
As I set out on a windy afternoon to see if I could capture some of this sound, it did cross my mind that a slightly baleful, but (to my ears) resonant and interesting sound encountered only when the wind blows a certain way in a particular place in the middle of field usually occupied by at most some sheep or cattle was definitely a stab at finding a fairly transient and imperfect fragment of beauty: wabi-sabi.
Bashō on the Path to Hanging Bridge
If there is a poet of the idea it must surely be the great seventeenth century traveller and haiku pioneer, Matsuo Bashō. A master whose work sometimes makes me think of photographic ways of seeing, although written long before the invention of photography.
The wind is mentioned often in Bashō’s haiku. Here is one to consider, with some alternative translations, perhaps while you listen the piece of sound I made (lower down) using the plaintive voice I heard calling from a post by the road to Craigowl.
蜘何と 音をなにと鳴 秋の風
Kumo nan to ne wo nani to naku aki no kaze
Spider, say again!
It’s so hard to hear your voice
in the autumn wind.
Spider, I say!
In what voice do you chirp?
An autumn wind
(Tr. Makoto Ueda)
Old spider! What is your
song? How do you cry
to the autumn wind
(Tr. Sam Hamill)
More: A history of wabi-sabi (YouTube)