Dr Werner Kissling is an intriguing man. Born into a wealthy Silesian brewing family in 1895, he died penniless in a Dumfries nursing home in 1988 leaving only a suitcase packed with photographs. During his life he was a Photographer and amateur ethnographer/anthropologist;a gentleman,and a scholar, a German diplomat and an aristocrat who left Germany in 1931 after a posting to London. Interred in the Tower during the war , he showed antipathy towards the Nazis. A brother of his was involved in the assassination attempt on Hitler and committed suicide in 1944. His work came to my attention while researching photography ,ethnography and anthropology for my PhD study at Nottingham Trent University. He was mainly known for his studies of the Scottish Isles Eriskay and South Uist , but spent several years photographing in New Zealand and North Yorkshire during the 1950's & 1960's.The Yorkshire work rests in the Folk Vernacular Archive held in Leeds University. It may be a cul-de-sac in my studies so far, but no reproductions of these images of Yorkshire craftsmen exist save for dry catalogue descriptions. Further research therefore into the contents of his imagery, and that of others who contributed imagery and audio, will be made soon in order to establish any precedents that may help me locate a starting point for my practice based research. In the meanwhile here are links ( please cut and paste them into your browser) to a documentary film made by him about Eriskay in 1934,
and a documentary about him in Gaelic made by Michael Russell.
For some time now in my research , I have been developing a style for my black and whites that has a deep almost lith print feel, using tritones in photoshop, overlaying warm gray and a slight colour.
These are the first few tests. all comments would be appreciated.
The edit is finished, and now there is the task of toning and spotting all images, designing a book and laying out the images into the final sequence.
This book, 'Metaphors we live by, Lakoff and Johnson 2003, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago & London' is a very good read and is an important text in regards to the metaphors that will be used in my book.
Following on from the colour section, below are the edits , and the process of editing the various black and white sections.
After a lot of work, i can finally announce that progress is being made on finalising the work of my research project.
There have been over 180 scans made, from the 21/4 negs and transparencies. All of these have been achieved using the high end Hasselblad imacon scanners . This allows a greater quality, especialy suited for reproduction in book form.
Below are the images from the colour section of the book. The images show the final sequencing in linear form, which will then be concertinered into the middle of the book as a colour section.
One of the most iconic symbols of Japan, cherry blossoms appear across a range of images, from the famous paintings of the nineteenth century Japanese artist Utagawa Hiroshige, to contemporary manga comics and tattoos. Japanese news media track them as they open each year, from the south of the island to the north, and use this domino effect to illustrate the creeping arrival of spring across the land. The blossoms are the visual and conceptual shorthand for a nation that is simultaneously ancient and utterly modern.
Of course, cherry blossoms are temporal. They last for the shortest time. They burst flashes of spectacular pink and white, and die shortly after. As such are an enduring metaphor for the ephemerality of life, and this transience is a significant part of their appeal.
Oukaranman translates as a burst of cherry blossom. The word is dynamic, it has energy, but suggests also that this energy, while intense, is short-lived. The energy it refers to is a liminal state, locate between the incipience of the bud and the bare, shrivelled stem that is left when the blossom dies.
What is most interesting about this liminal state is that it doesn’t just apply to cherry blossoms. Liminality is a concept that is found in psychology, psychoanalysis, in the sciences of the mind, where it indicates that a person is caught between two worlds, alienated, with no sense of belonging. They are caught, quite literally, betwixt and between. They are in a suspended state, where their physical self is stable and fixed, but their mind is anything but.
Liminality is a psychological condition, but it is so prevalent that it is not a disorder, but a fact of human existence. It manifests itself not just in the mind, but, arguably, in all human activity, and its effects can be traced across a range of phenomena. Our relationship with the past and the future is a liminal one, as we are forever moving through time. We are always caught between incipience and terminus, moving forward and never quite attaining either. The Buddhist emphasis on mindfulness and the present is just one of the many coping strategies humankind has come up with to make the liminality of human existence tolerable. In terms of history, like time for the individual, human civilisation is balanced precariously between the historical and the modern, already historical and always contemporary. In this regard, it is little wonder that there are languages that have no present tense for the verb to be. How can the present be possible, when it is only ever liminal to start with? Man’s relationship with nature is similarly fraught – where does nature end and civilisation begin? Sigmund Freud tells is there are regular skirmishes between these two opposing forces, along a highly disputed border territory, located firmly in the human mind.
So it is with the Oukaranman series of images from the photographer Richard Whitehead. Here, we see the temporality of the blossoms set against the interminable infinity of the sky. Incipience, indeed. Beauty caught in a moment, destined to die, within a perpetual frame The immaterial nature of the blossoms themselves is emphasised by the thick black branches of the trees, their flaws underscored by the appearance of a cloud in an otherwise perfect sky. When juxtaposed against the buildings, the road markings and the traffic lights, we have a sense of the tension between man and his need for civilisation, progress, technology, on the one hand, and the relentlessly uncontrollable rhythms of nature on the other. The conflict that lies at the heart of the human psyche, the endless battle between nature and civilisation, writ large in these images.
The photographs that are not concerned with blossoms are no less insightful in their consideration of the liminal state. People queuing to get up a set of steps while others are queuing to come down suggests a logical Geiger-esque impasse that must be negotiated if any of these people are to continue on their way. And while we may look up at the temporal, deathly magnificence of nature, if we cast our eyes in another direction we see cigarette butts in a puddle, and the grubby impermanence of human activity.
Cherry blossoms may well be a symbol of Japan but the metaphor they embody - and the profound insights into the human condition that this metaphor provides - is what makes their appeal universal. They tell us something about ourselves, and when they appear in a city, or, via the technological medium of photography, in images in an art gallery, our sense of what it is to be human is enriched. We are reminded of our impermanence, and the conflict within us and within our societies that this impermanence engenders as we try to fight against it, through the creation of children and lives as liminal as our own, or else through art and the creation of something that we hope will outlast us. The only guarantee there is, though, is that, every year, the cherry trees bud, bloom and die. The blossoms come and go, just like we do.
Dr Alison Bancroft
Oukaranman -A Riot of Cherry Blossoms
Cherry Blossoms traditionally symbolise the transient nature of life.
During a period of approximately ten days in the spring, the cherry trees in Japan bud, flower, bloom and fall like snow. There is an entire culture built up around enjoying and contemplating this experience.
During April in 2012 we visited a sick relative who was receiving treatment in a hospital near to Shiba Park, Tokyo. The trees were approaching full bloom and he could not see them nor leave the ward to view them.
From the 6th to the 10th of April 2012 I visited three parks in Tokyo; Shiba, Chirofungi and Kamazawa Olympic Park. The photographs exhibited here are intended on one level as a pure document, recording the blossoms as they were in full bloom with a biological purpose and how I responded to them and recorded them as a participant in their beauty . And on another level they are indexical visual metaphors and metonymns, which are intended to represent and stand for the bustle of urban life that is contemporary Japan; and the potential of life they promise, before their beauty fades and they fall .
Based on Hiroshige’s woodcut prints of ‘One Hundred Views of Edo’, these twenty A2 archival pigment print images are part of a greater body of photographic work that responds to my own liminality of a greater personal involvement with an appreciation of Japanese culture. I have visited Japan now on many separate occasions for extended periods of time over the past ten years, but I will never be Japanese, nor be a native speaker. Nor will I ever be a tourist again.
Liminality can arguably simply be defined as that phase of being in between; that unstable space in which the learner may oscillate between old and emergent understandings.
All photography is an interpretation of the world, but it is arguably also in two parallel worlds at once, neither Art nor Documentary. It is both recreating the world and creating a fake world that exists within the image, within the context of the exhibition or book and within the mind of the viewer.
On being a photographer, Bill Jay in conversation with David Hurn has said:
‘The ultimate aim is an oscillation between self and subject with the images being a physical manifestation of this supercharged interface between the spirit and the world.’
To describe and define these images as being entirely documents, nor of myself as being a documentary photographer is difficult. Like a personal oscillation, they act as a record of what has been seen, what did exist ,what we are (as an emerging intertwined network in a global community) and what we may become. My attempt with these images is to visually respond subjectively to this continuing experience; to that ‘Limbo’ of being neither outside Japanese culture, nor of being totally within it.
As an ethnographic anthropolgical photographer the easy visual solution may have been to document those viewing the blossoms (and in one image exhibited here I do). In another image, however, there is the antithesis of those beautiful blossoms, (the detritus of spent cigarettes), that seem engulfed by a polluted sea. The reference to the recent tsunami, and the Fukushima disaster is intended.
As you view these images, contemplate this thought. When viewing these blossoms, that already have passed ‘Life is Transient’, ...but it really is a beautiful journey.
© Richard Whitehead 2013