Narahara Ikko: “Japonesque Zen”

What does “Japanese culture” means and in which way words as “spirituality” and “religion” are important for Japanese? Where people nowadays search the sense of their life? I was wondering about all these questions while checking photography exhibitions in Tokyo. The name of one of those caught my attention: “Japanesque Zen” by Narahara Ikkō, described as “a sharp observer of modern Japan and its extremities”[1].

Susanna (@susannakabura) • Foto e video di Instagram_20150705191300

I didn’t know nothing about this artists, nor about the place the exhibition was held, the “Photo Gallery International” in Shibaura near Tamachi station, but I knew I would go to see it. I couldn’t take my eyes from the photo on the website chosen as presentation of the exhibition: I endlessly chased the wake of the lantern’s light the showed the passage of Buddhist monks, probably running for the preparations of the morning service. I wanted to find out more about the meaning of that light, what lay inside of the image my eyes couldn’t see. I went to the Gallery in an ordinary sunny day and after crossing some bridges I reached the place in a secondary street. On the entrance the invitation to freely visit the gallery. I went upstairs on the second floor finding myself in front of a small white room, where few photos, all framed in white, waiting silently to be observed. According to the guestbook just few people came to see the exhibition, I was the only foreign. The 12 photos were shouted during the 1979 in the Sōjoji temple in Ishikawa and Yokohama, all black and white, where light and shadow are the real protagonists. As Narahara said, shadow exists only because light exists and the human being existence could be compared to the space occupied by the shadow of our physical body. For Narahara, the perception of the photo starts from reading the space and time as included simultaneously. This is his way to get closer to the real essence of Zen. In the monosyllabic Japanese word Ma (間) there is the space (門 = door) in which the sunlight (日= sun) peeps in: the interval of waiting for the sun and the moment in which it can be seen from the door is empty, but this emptiness is not negative, rather implies all the potentialities of the moment, both positive and negative. In Narahara’s photos this Ma is filled with motion, captured by the camera in an eternal moment in which past, present and future are in the same space at the same time. Negative and positive spaces, considered from the point of view of the photographic technique, are blended and not easily recognizable so that the audience member’s mind can start its own creative process filling the photo with their thought and feelings.

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On a simple bamboo wall it is reflected by a circular glow a face’s profile as surrounded by an aura, while from the dark emerges a head illuminated by a dazzling glow, emptying of any material consistence. What is real? And what, conversely, is our mind’s product? The external existence is different from the inside? Using camera as a machine for meditation, Narahara considers photos as scene and evidence of the external reality and the sphere of heart that meet each other and become one, but in order to ensure that they can meet, it must be programmed in detail a mechanism that continues to function properly[2].emptiness is not negative, rather implies all the potentialities of the moment, both positive and negative. In Narahara’s photos this Ma is filled with motion, captured by the camera in an eternal moment in which past, present and future are in the same space at the same time. Negative and positive spaces, considered from the point of view of the photographic technique, are blended and not easily recognizable so that the audience member’s mind can start its own creative process filling the photo with their thought and feelings. f8fe099f3697dce55a09ac11ea07ea63

From this point of view his works became koan, enigma of the space-time which separates dream and reality, a way to meditate as it was originally in the original Zen Buddhism when this teaching focused on a picture to contemplate. Looking back on the past, Narahara tried to unveil the traditional culture that still lives in contemporary Japan, canceling distances and allowing, perhaps, to see our own nature.

[1]    Time out http://www.timeout.jp/en/tokyo/event/14127 (consulted the last time on July 5, 2015)

[2]    Nihon no shashinka (31)  – Narahara Ikko, Nagano Shigekazu (curated by), Iwanami shoten, 1997, p. 6.

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Kabura

Japan, matcha, animals, nature, photo lover. Curiosa del mondo presente, passato e futuro

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