Beyond the bight that empties into the Sound, and beyond that.
Along the white space between cloud and sea
Like coal dust.
Fine as dust.
As dark as dust.
As if rain has become a dry and solid thing. It is a hard end to the day. And inside
almost as hard, from damp, from wind that shudders the walls, racks the heavy
pilings on which the house stands, here in close proximity to the sea. The comfort
of the lighthouse on the island far out grows dull.
No time to be abroad, not in this weather. Stay indoors. Woolen sweater…
Shotei at his window painted a view like mine. Except in the foreground, Shin-
Ōhashi Bridge. And upon the bridge, people going home. You know this by the
hour tolled by the color of the sky as dark as mine is now.
From which they should not.
Leaning forward beneath umbrellas, in conversation or alone they walk at a brisk
pace. For those without, hat pulled down, coat over head they run. In long strides.
The upraised arms the flailing of hands speak only about water that comes tilting in
angular lines. Elemental to be sure but harmless. While directly above where no
one looks black cloud is carved into broken shapes.
This they do not see.
Only the boatmen carried under the bridge by the current, and those in the midst
of the Sumida River continue, with no apparent notice, of the rain. Lives at risk
they pole their boats with deliberation toward day’s end.
Complete awareness. Complete acceptance.
Outside my window lightning will illuminate the sky tonight. Like the boatmen, I
know this is where danger lies. Like Shotei-san I am not at peace. I will not be
calm. I cannot accept.
© 2023 Seahouse Press
All Rights Reserved
The underpinnings of Japanese woodblock prints are diverse. Among them, a particular and exacting relationship to the Natural World. Late 18th and early 19th Century representations in particular are based on such deep immersion en plein air that birds, plants, water, sky could be painted and drawn with great accuracy in the studio. Contrast this with Audubon, who shot and mounted the birds that were the subject of his prints. It shows. Audubon’s birds land, and perch, and fly in strange poses never encountered in life.
While the birds and the flowering branches depicted in the work of an artist like Kitao Shigemasa (1739-1820) are absolutely alive, as they were when he saw them because that is how he remembered them. Hiroshige (1797-1858) of whom Shotei was an admirer did a woodblock print of that same bridge 75 years before, part of his series One Hundred Famous Views of Edo. Hiroshige’s work is titled Sudden Shower Over Shin-Ōhashi Bridge. In this regard Shotei’s woodblock is a form of pentimento. We see through the one to the other. The sky above Hiroshige’s bridge is light, the dark rain cloud at the very top only a narrow band. As we are told and can frankly see we are looking at a “shower,” the implication being that the cloud is lifting rather than lowering, that the rain is coming to an end. A momentary event. And the people crossing over accept and are calm. There is nothing calm about the Shotei. It is the immediate, eventful, impending that motivates Lightning Over Shin-Ōhashi Bridge. Shotei, the “artist name” of Hiroaki Takahashi (1871-1945) was a highly respected maker of Japanese woodblock prints. Most of his prints together with the woodblock engravings were destroyed in the deadly fire subsequent to the Kanto Earthquake of 1923 which left Tokyo a crumbled and smoldering ruin. Lightning over Shin-Ōhashi Bridge is one of his rare surviving works from before the catastrophe. It almost seems he had a premonition. Perhaps he did. But I think the larger reason for the extraordinary thematic structure of this piece is that it was done during or just after World War I. Japan had little involvement in the war itself. Nevertheless the world was in chaos which must have permeated Shotei’s mind as well as a foreboding, of what was to come. One hundred years after Shotei-san, my photograph Storm Approaching Long Island Sound comes from a similar place.
Lightning over Shin-Ōhashi Bridge as well as other works by Shotei and by many other Japanese woodblock print artists, can be found at Moonlit Sea Prints of
Easthampton, MA, https://moonlitseaprints.com/
Mark Seth Lender’s The Decisive Sequence, the work-in-progress of his first book of photography, can be found at https://marksethlender.com/the-decisive-sequence/
Mark Seth Lender is the author together will his wife Valerie Elaine Pettis, of Smeagull the Seagull, A True Story which can be found at http://smeagull.com/