Oukaranman -A Riot of Cherry Blossoms

Cherry Blossoms in the Japanese tradition 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. Specifically my purpose was to photograph the cherry blossoms as they were at their peak. 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. On a deeper level they are intended to represent and stand for  the bustle of urban life that is contemporary Japan.

Based on Hiroshige’s woodcut prints of ‘One Hundred Famous Views of Edo, 1858 ’, the twenty print images exhibited here are part of a greater body of photographic work that responds to my own 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.

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.’                                              (Jay/Hurn (2007): On being a Photographer)

To describe and define the images exhibited here as being entirely documents, nor of myself as being a documentary photographer is difficult. My attempt with these 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 a photo-journalist 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), and the difficulty is that they appeared  to me to be 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