The Photograph as Kintsugi
I’ve spent the past few years evangelizing my feelings about the photograph as haiku — and the many ways those poetic forms can be aesthetically connected.
I’m also a fan of kintsugi — the 15th century Japanese art form where broken ceramics are repaired with gold. Kintsugi highlights the flaws: it takes a reasonably cheap and common piece of clay, one made less useful by being broken, and by highlighting the cracks with gold remakes the everyday object into (almost) jewelry — something precious and special. Kintsugi reminds us about perfection in imperfection, it’s a good illustration of wabi-sabi, and it’s one of the cooler (and less well-known) Zen arts.
When you photograph an object you make it special, simply by highlighting it. Even the most commonplace moment or item can become iconic, valuable, special, through the act of being photographed.
I saw Andrea Modica’s photo of a plain dress on Instagram today:
It’s nothing special. The subject and presentation are neither dramatic nor important — just a cheap ceramic bowl. But by singling this moment and object out of a infinity of moments and objects, putting a frame around it and saying “here,” Modica does something that kintsugi does, she applies herself toward making the mundane special. And not just any snapshot of a dress, pulled off as one of perhaps many similar shots, but the result of slow and calculated effort to set up a tripod and use a large format camera — with enormous subtlety and detail. Pointing an old-school camera using silver film is unnecessarily cumbersome, except to the degree you want to go slow, you want to craft something particularly beautiful. But there’s even more: Modica prints this image, enshrines it with platinum on fine paper — literally turning it into a physical object that is precious and crafted. It’s not the dress that’s special, it’s through a sort of kintsugi practice that Modica creates it’s importance and highlights the beauty in the mundane.