Monday, April 26, 2010

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Life in moist, dark places

"Other-wordly" images of potatoes left to sprout in moist, dark places. Wabi-sabi images.

More images of potatoes on my website at:

More wabi-sabi related images on my website at:

What is wabi-sabi?
-written by Tadao Ando

Pared down to its barest essence, wabi-sabi is the Japanese art of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in nature, of accepting the natural cycle of growth, decay, and death. It's simple, slow, and uncluttered-and it reveres authenticity above all. Wabi-sabi is flea markets, not warehouse stores; aged wood, not Pergo; rice paper, not glass. It celebrates cracks and crevices and all the other marks that time, weather, and loving use leave behind. It reminds us that we are all but transient beings on this planet-that our bodies as well as the material world around us are in the process of returning to the dust from which we came. Through wabi-sabi, we learn to embrace liver spots, rust, and frayed edges, and the march of time they represent.

Wabi-sabi is underplayed and modest, the kind of quiet, undeclared beauty that waits patiently to be discovered. It's a fragmentary glimpse: the branch representing the entire tree, shoji screens filtering the sun, the moon 90 percent obscured behind a ribbon of cloud. It's a richly mellow beauty that's striking but not obvious, that you can imagine having around you for a long, long time-Katherine Hepburn versus Marilyn Monroe. For the Japanese, it's the difference between kirei-merely "pretty"-and omoshiroi, the interestingness that kicks something into the realm of beautiful. (Omoshiroi literally means "white faced," but its meanings range from fascinating to fantastic.) It's the peace found in a moss garden, the musty smell of geraniums, the astringent taste of powdered green tea. My favorite Japanese phrase for describing wabi-sabi is "natsukashii furusato," or an old memory of my hometown. (This is a prevalent mind-set in Japan these days, as people born in major urban areas such as Tokyo and Osaka wax nostalgic over grandparents' country houses that perhaps never were. They can even "rent" grandparents who live in prototypical country houses and spend the weekend there.)

Daisetz T. Suzuki, who was one of Japan's foremost English-speaking authorities on Zen Buddhism and one of the first scholars to interpret Japanese culture for Westerners, described wabi-sabi as "an active aesthetical appreciation of poverty." He was referring to poverty not as we in the West interpret (and fear) it but in the more romantic sense of removing the huge weight of material concerns from our lives. "Wabi is to be satisfied with a little hut, a room of two or three tatami mats, like the log cabin of Thoreau," he wrote, "and with a dish of vegetables picked in the neighboring fields, and perhaps to be listening to the pattering of a gentle spring rainfall."

In Japan, there is a marked difference between a Thoreau-like wabibito (wabi person), who is free in his heart, and a makoto no hinjin, a more Dickensian character whose poor circumstances make him desperate and pitiful. The ability to make do with less is revered; I heard someone refer to a wabibito as a person who could make something complete out of eight parts when most of us would use ten. For us in the West, this might mean choosing a smaller house or a smaller car, or-just as a means of getting started-refusing to supersize our fries.

The words wabi and sabi were not always linked, although they've been together for such a long time that many people (including D. T. Suzuki) use them interchangeably. One tea teacher I talked with begged me not to use the phrase wabi-sabi because she believes the marriage dilutes their separate identities; a tea master in Kyoto laughed and said they're thrown together because it sounds catchy, kind of like Ping-Pong. In fact, the two words do have distinct meanings, although most people don't fully agree on what they might be.

Wabi stems from the root wa, which refers to harmony, peace, tranquillity, and balance. Generally speaking, wabi had the original meaning of sad, desolate, and lonely, but poetically it has come to mean simple, unmaterialistic, humble by choice, and in tune with nature. Someone who is perfectly herself and never craves to be anything else would be described as wabi. Sixteenth-century tea master Jo-o described a wabi tea man as someone who feels no dissatisfaction even though he owns no Chinese utensils with which to conduct tea. A common phrase used in conjunction with wabi is "the joy of the little monk in his wind-torn robe." A wabi person epitomizes Zen, which is to say, he or she is content with very little; free from greed, indolence, and anger; and understands the wisdom of rocks and grasshoppers.

Until the fourteenth century, when Japanese society came to admire monks and hermits for their spiritual asceticism, wabi was a pejorative term used to describe cheerless, miserable outcasts. Even today, undertones of desolation and abandonment cling to the word, sometimes used to describe the helpless feeling you have when waiting for your lover. It also carries a hint of dissatisfaction in its underhanded criticism of gaud and ostentation-the defining mark of the ruling classes when wabisuki (a taste for all things wabi) exploded in the sixteenth century. In a country ruled by warlords who were expected to be conspicuous consumers, wabi became known as "the aesthetic of the people"-the lifestyle of the everday samurai, who had little in the way of material comforts.

Sabi by itself means "the bloom of time." It connotes natural progression-tarnish, hoariness, rust-the extinguished gloss of that which once sparkled. It's the understanding that beauty is fleeting. The word's meaning has changed over time, from its ancient definition, "to be desolate," to the more neutral "to grow old." By the thirteenth century, sabi's meaning had evolved into taking pleasure in things that were old and faded. A proverb emerged: "Time is kind to things, but unkind to man."

Sabi things carry the burden of their years with dignity and grace: the chilly mottled surface of an oxidized silver bowl, the yielding gray of weathered wood, the elegant withering of a bereft autumn bough. An old car left in a field to rust, as it transforms from an eyesore into a part of the landscape, could be considered America's contribution to the evolution of sabi. An abandoned barn, as it collapses in on itself, holds this mystique.

There's an aching poetry in things that carry this patina, and it transcends the Japanese. We Americans are ineffably drawn to old European towns with their crooked cobblestone streets and chipping plaster, to places battle scarred with history much deeper than our own. We seek sabi in antiques and even try to manufacture it in distressed furnishings. True sabi cannot be acquired, however. It is a gift of time.

So now we have wabi, which is humble and simple, and sabi, which is rusty and weathered. And we've thrown these terms together into a phrase that rolls off the tongue like Ping-Pong. Does that mean, then, that the wabi-sabi house is full of things that are humble, plain, rusty, and weathered? That's the easy answer. The amalgamation of wabi and sabi in practice, however, takes on much more depth.

In home decor, wabi-sabi inspires a minimalism that celebrates the human rather than the machine. Possessions are pared down, and pared down again, until only those that are necessary for their utility or beauty (and ideally both) are left. What makes the cut? Items that you both admire and love to use, like those hand-crank eggbeaters that still work just fine. Things that resonate with the spirit of their makers' hands and hearts: the chair your grandfather made, your six-year-old's lumpy pottery, an afghan you knitted yourself (out of handspun sheep's wool, perhaps). Pieces of your own history: sepia-toned ancestral photos, baby shoes, the Nancy Drew mysteries you read over and over again as a kid.

Wabi-sabi interiors tend to be muted, dimly lit, and shadowy-giving the rooms an enveloping, womblike feeling. Natural materials that are vulnerable to weathering, warping, shrinking, cracking, and peeling lend an air of perishability. The palette is drawn from browns, blacks, grays, earthy greens, and rusts. This implies a lack of freedom but actually affords an opportunity for innovation and creativity. In Japan, kimonos come in a hundred different shades of gray. You simply have to hone your vision

so you can see, and feel, them all.

_Tadao Ando

Saturday, April 24, 2010

iPhone Diaries #86: "Kortright Road West #2"

A small conservation area on Kortright Road West, west of Gordon, wedged between a strip plaza and a residential area. Saturday, April 24th.

iPhone Diaries #85: "Kortright Road West #1"

A small conservation area on Kortright Road West, west of Gordon, wedged between a strip plaza and a residential area. Saturday, April 24th.

Friday, April 23, 2010

iPhone Diaries #84: "Scented pedal power"

University Avenue, Toronto, April 23rd.

iPhone Diaries #83: "Pull-through heaven"

"Pull-through" is a situation on a parking lot where you are able to park with the front of the car facing the lane (without having to back the car in); so that leaving the parking lot is a matter of driving forward without having to back the car out (minimizing the potential for accidents).
Observed at the mall this weekend:
A van parks without taking advantage of a "pull-through" situation. Cigarette smoke bellows out the door as a large man steps out, followed by his wife carrying their year-old son and another child. Just before entering the mall, he flicks the half-finished cigarette on to the street.
Perfect example of a Triple-L.*
* Loser

iPhone Diaries #82: "Come walk with me"

On the MacBook, April, 2010.

iPhone Diaries #81: "Find Peace"

Found on the sidwalk where Toronto Street meets York Road, Guelph.

iPhone Diaries #80: "Young Jedi up in the tree"

Macallister Park, April 2010.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

iPhone Diaries #79: "Rogue blue"

Found these rogue blue flowers growing amidst lavender that is just waking up from its winter slumber.

iPhone Diaries - a description

A back-to-basics, less-is-more, photographic project. As photographers, we are inundated (and jaded) by the plethora of digital devices, the latest ones promising (but not delivering the goods) more megapixels and the latest super-ultra-extreme-XLT processor to (potentially) allow everyone to be the best photographer that they could be.

The most popular camera used by Flickr uploaders is the cameraphone (the Canon Rebel Series comes in second). For me, using my cameraphone is an exercise in purging the mind of clutter, as well as in actually shooting on a regular basis, as opposed to "binge" shooting (1600+ clicks on a typical wedding). The limitations imposed by the cameraphone (low resolution, fixed lens, severely reduced dynamic range) forces me to work within these parameters. For example, I have to use my feet to compose the image; I don't have a zoom lens. I am now a slave to how the camera thinks; I can't adjust the exposure to suit my needs. This is the digital Polaroid.

The best camera in the world is the camera that you have with you and that you actually use. The best advise for the "artist" is to practice their craft on a consistent basis. Sketch if you're a painter, sculpt if you're a sculptor, shoot if you're a photographer.

So I leave the 21MP FF Canon with the L lenses at home; I use my iPhone whenever I can.

iPhone Diaries #78: "Coat Check"

Glenn Gould Studios, CBC, Toronto, April 20th.

iPhone Diaries #77: "Photoshoot at the Glenn Gould Studios, CBC, Toronto""

Taken at the Glenn Gould Studios, CBC, Toronto, while on a whole-day shoot for the Association of Canadian Advertisers, April 20th.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Speed River 11apr2010

Taken along the Speed River, north of Wellington 38 Road (Victoria Road). More images on my website at:

Sunday, April 4, 2010

"The Ward"

One of many structures/buildings/homes on St. Patrick's Ward. Arthur South and Oliver Streets. Easter Sunday, April 4th.

An Inukshuk on the Speed River at Gordon

An Inukshuk on the Speed River at Gordon (the Our Lady of Lourdes Church steeple in the background). Spring flow is reduced to a relative trickle as the river volume is controlled by the Guelph Lake Dam. Kids, young and old, have put up these stone creations on the exposed riverbed. Easter Sunday, April 4th.

iPhone Diaries #76: "Photographing an Inukshuk on the Speed River"

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Friday, April 2, 2010

iPhone Diaries #74: "First line-up for ice-cream"

Ice-cream lineup at the Boathouse on the Speed River at Gordon. First of the season. Good Friday, April 2nd.

iPhone Diaries #73: "First crocus for 2010"

On a walk to the park with Mary and the dogs, we spied this crocus, adamant that it be noticed! A visual treat competing with the audio offerings of the male cardinal and the robins. The downside was the obsessive/compulsive next-door  neighbour intruding on the peace and quiet with his lawnmower. Good Friday, April 2nd.