Listed as Japanese national treasures, the Shorinzu “Pine Forest Screens” (ca. 1590) by Momoyama period (1568-1600) painter Hasegawa Tohaku (1539-1610) represent a coming of age in Japanese imaging, some three hundred years after the advent of ink painting from Song dynasty (960-1279) China. The profound expression achieved through tonalities of light and dark speak to my own continued investigations into black and white photography. Thus I thought to enter into the Tohaku's “Pine Forest,” metabolizing its inner life so as to substitute my own "ink photography."
In Japanese cultural traditions, the act of emulating works of great predecessors is called honka-dori, "taking up the melody." Not scathed as mere copying, it is regarded as a praiseworthy effort. I traveled the length of Japan, visiting the so-called meisho "famous sites" for pines: Miho no Matsubara, Matsushima, Ama no Hashidate. All verged on succumbing to the ravages of encroaching modernization. Only at the very last "vanishing point" of perspective Japan, the Imperial Palace―there in that manicured nature, that 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