Quiet refinement

Jōkōji, Japan
mbfitzmahan. 2012 Jōkōji, Japan. A weed deserves to be noticed once in awhile.

I have two deep passions.  Black and white photography, and kanji, the system of Japanese writing.   The allure of these two systems comes from my attraction to Japanese aesthetics: simplicity, suggestion, irregularity, quiet refinement. 

Both photography and kanji can be minimalistic, complex, esoteric, mysterious, and enigmatic.   

mbfitzmahan. 2012. Miyajima, Japan

Kanji (漢字), adopted from Chinese characters, are logograms.  That is a new word to me, too.  Logogram.  A logogram is a written character that represents a whole word or even a phrase.  Not a sound.  A whole idea.  A visual. 

mbfitzmahan. 2011 New York. The sway of her skirt.

That’s what I love about kanji.  Each kanji is a story, a picture, an idea.  

mbfitzmahan. 2016. New York City. Central Park.

The Japanese write in pictures.  Imagine that!  Every time you write anything, you write your thoughts in little pieces of art.  Not only ideas, but images, too.  Tree actually looks a bit like a tree –  木。 See the skirt of the tree, and the branches at the side?  I know, a bit abstract.  But, then, abstract is cool. 

A river looks like this 川.It is the flowing water down the stream.  And 水 – water –  is squeezing the river, and out comes water!  Swish.  I love it!  

mbfitzmahan. 2016. New York, Central Park. Sunday.

Every word, every sentence is made up of a gallery of paintings. 

Japanese haiku is evaluated by its kanji that are words, but more importantly are a visual dessert. 

Seasons, emotions, mountains, temples, red leaf maple – are brush strokes in black on a canvas of life.  Whew!  I know!

かね 消えて


夕 かな

 (芭蕉  1644-94 )

kane kiete

hana no ka wa tsuku

yū kana 

As the toll from the bell dims,

The echo rumbles on – on a waft of flowers.


        by Matsuo Basho


4 thoughts on “Quiet refinement

  1. Like kanji, each photograph “represents a whole word or even a phrase. Not a sound. A whole idea. A visual.” Your photos tell complex stories in a single moment. They lead to infinite wonder. They tease me to imagine and to create – to fill in the blanks. Stepping into one of your pictures is like having dinner with Mary Poppins, Morpheus and CS Lewis. Thank you for the adventures.

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