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Silent Japan: The Images – Part 1

Its been about 2 weeks since my Silent Japan exhibition ended it’s run at the Arts House.  To me, it was a great success!  I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent on-site at the exhibition every day and it was wonderful that my wife Laura could also be there with me every day.  It was fun walking visitors through the images and also having them share with me their impressions and favourite images.

This post is the start of a series of blog posts on the images that were featured in the exhibition.  I will be featuring 1 or 2 images per post and sharing about some of the background behind the images.

I chose the following image titled “Torii, Study 1, Shirakawa Hachimangu Shrine, Honshu, Japan. 2009” as the anchor image for the whole exhibition.  The Torii gate in the image gives context to the image.  When people see the Torii gate, most can deduce immediately that the image was taken in Japan.  I like it that this Torii gate was made of stone, and grey in colour instead of the bright wooden red ones I normally see.  The texture of the stone steps also lend to the overall ancient feeling of the image.  The 2 people who went up the stairs to pray completed the scene for me.  This quiet still moment summed up the whole theme and feel of the Silent Japan exhibition.  “2 people standing there silently praying” = Quiet/Still/Silence/Silent + ” Torii gate” = Japan.  Hence, the exhibition name, Silent Japan.  Most, if not all the images from this series of work has a very quiet feel to it.

Some people have asked me if this scene was “posed”.  The answer is “no”.  Looking at an index sheet of the photographs I took at this shrine, I took only 3 images from this particular angle of the Torii gate.  The final chosen image was the last shot and the only shot I took of these 2 particular people praying.  The first 2 shots were taken about 7 minutes before this final shot.  In between the first 2 shots and this final shot, I was moving around the shrine photographing other things.  This shot is one of those magical moments where everything just comes together perfectly.  The scene was already set (i.e. the light, the Torii gate, etc) and I noticed that the 2 people who had gone up were standing nicely in the centre of the Torii gate, so I quickly focussed, composed and took the photo.  Within a second or two, the 2 people had moved on.

Quite a number of people have also asked where exactly the above photo was taken.  It was taken at the Shirakawa Hachimangu Shrine in the town of Shirakawago in Gifu prefecture.  Shirakawago is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a wonderful little town to visit.  It is known for the Gassho (thatched roof) styled houses and the region is famous for its Hida beef which is delicious!  During the day, bus loads of tourists (both local and foreign) descend on the town.  We stayed there overnight and by 5pm the place was deserted!  It was nice and quiet and really pleasant to walk around once the tourists emptied out of the town.  We went during the late summer and the rice fields were being harvested.  The following is a photo of the town I took from the lookout point the following morning.  The town was still peaceful and deserted at this time.

Hida beef cooked on Hoba (magnolia) leaf in miso sauce. YUM YUM!