I just ran across this cool site, a picture gallery page off of Bowdoin College’s Japanese gardens home page. Though my garden, with its patches of heavily assorted plantings, generally doesn’t have much of a Japanese garden feel, I have a real fondness for the studied natural simplicity of the Japanese garden aesthetic. This site has some amazing gardens, particularly around Kyoto, and includes the iconic Ryoan-ji raked sand garden, plus 28 others. Each has several pictures, a map, and introduction and a brief bit of history.
One of the artists whose photographs got me interested in photography again in the 1980s was David Hockney. I’m not sure of his level of infatuation with Japanese gardens, but he did do this striking piece in 1983, a big photocollage of the dry garden at Ryoan-ji. It’s a little hard to see in this reduced picture, but he’s pieced together bits of the garden, pieces of the surrounding temple, pilgrims to the site and the black plastic containers of the film he was using to shoot the scene. And if you look close you can also see his socks.
When he was doing these photocollages, the story goes that Hockney dropped off his film at the neighborhood quickie photo place. In this photocollage you can see the mismatched printing the place did, particularly obvious in the central sand area. After Hockney made the originals, these collages were then editioned, using Hockney’s negatives. The people making the edition tried to replicate Hockney’s originals, which in this case meant going through the headaches of doing an intentionally “bad” job of printing the negatives, trying to match the job the local photo place did for Hockney.
These works don’t have the same vivid colors that Hockney’s paintings do, but they for sure share some of the same sense of space and time. Inspired by cubism, things don’t fit together perfectly, but your mind pieces the scenes together in a sensible way anyway. For me these works are almost like sculpture in that regard: You can’t see them all at once. Instead of traversing the space around an object, though, your eye moves around the image, giving you a sense of space. Viewing the work–a collage of images captured over a certain timespan–engages time in a way a single photograph typically doesn’t.