Considered Japanese national treasures, the Shorinzu “Pine Forest Screens” (circa 1590) by painter Hasegawa Tohaku (1539-1610) of the Momoyama period (1568-1600) represent a coming of age in Japanese imaging, having been made some three hundred years after the advent of ink painting in China during Song dynasty (960-1279). The profound expression achieved through tonalities of light and dark speak to my continuing investigations into black and white photography.
In Japanese cultural tradition, the act of emulating works of great predecessors is called honka-dori, taking up the melody. Not looked down upon as mere copying, it is regarded as a praiseworthy effort. Thus I thought to enter Tohaku's Shorinzu, metabolizing its inner life so as to offer up my own "ink photography."
I traveled the length of Japan, visiting the so-called meisho (famous sites) for pines: Miho no Matsubara, Matsushima, Ama no Hashidate. Each verged on succumbing to the ravages of encroaching modernization. Only at the last vanishing point of perspective in Japan, the Imperial Palace―its manicured nature is the ultimate in artificial beauty―did I find my anticipated pine image. After studying each and every pine bending coquettishly this way and that, I synthetically composed this imaginary pair of six-paneled screens. Here, then, is a painting in photographs, though the site photographed escapes any actual location. This is everywhere and nowhere, a fiction of pictorial idealization―as was the original painting.
- Hiroshi Sugimoto