March 21, 2012

Wabi-Sabi iPhoneography by Paul Cutright

Today I would like to introduce you to a relatively new artist to iPhone Photography, Paul Cutright

Three Doors

Buddha's Hands

Last Red Leaf
Wabi-sabi is a Japanese aesthetic arising out of the Zen tradition. It is a celebration of the beauty, harmony and authenticity of the imperfect, mundane or often overlooked. It concedes that nothing is permanent, nothing lasts and nothing is perfect. And in that lies a unique beauty for the discerning eye. While the iPhone camera and iPhoneography itself may be considered a medium of expression of those very same wabi-sabi values, it flies in the face of the often fanatical pursuit of image "sharpness" that accompany more traditional forms and tools of photography.

According to writer Patricia Ward, "Wabi, sabi, and suki are important yet illusive concepts that explain the notion of Japanese beauty. Wabi denotes simplicity and quietude and incorporates rustic beauty, such as patterns found in straw, bamboo, clay, or stone. It refers to both that which is made by nature and that which is made by man. Sabi refers to the patina of age, the concept that changes due to use may make an object more beautiful and valuable. This incorporates an appreciation of the cycles of life and careful, artful mending of damage. Suki means subtle elegance referring to beauty in accidental creation or unconventional forms."

Japanese architect Tadao Ando says, “Wabi-sabi is underplayed and modest, the kind of quiet, undeclared beauty that waits patiently to be discovered. It's a fragmentary glimpse: the branch representing the entire tree, shoji screens filtering the sun, the moon 90 percent obscured behind a ribbon of cloud. It's a richly mellow beauty that's striking but not obvious, that you can imagine having around you for a long, long time . . .”

I believe the iPhone with its multiplicity of apps, produces all kinds of “imperfect” yet beautiful images. And I observe so many “iPhoneographers”, professional and amateur, having a blast playing with all the creative possibilities that are contained right within the tool itself!

As Teri shared in a recent blog post, paraphrasing here, iPhoneography is photography and those who use the iPhone are making photographic images. So, iPhoneography exists in a long tradition of technical and aesthetic practices and distinctions. And, at the same time, appears to be producing both a revolution and an evolution in the art of photographic image making.

If the notion of wabi-sabi appeals to you I encourage you to explore the idea for yourself. Go on an art walk around your home, your yard or neighborhood as a kind of meditation, moving slowly and allowing your unconscious to lead your eye and perhaps direct your gaze toward some previously unnoticed scene; gardening utensils lying haphazardly on a worn table or bench, blossoms in a state of early decay, some object out of place or set askew.

See if this kind of exercise brings some new awareness and sensitivity to your image making with your iPhone. And thus producing images of exceptional beauty “that you can imagine having around you for a long, long time . . .”

The Last Pixel Show Destination Workshop starts
April 5th in Napa Valley. 

I got my iPhone 4S in November 2011 and now, to my surprise, it’s the only camera I carry! Although I am new to iPhoneography, I have been a photographer for nearly 40 years.

I fell into photography pretty much by chance when I enrolled in the San Francisco Art Institute’s photography department. At the time, 1971, SFAI was only one of maybe three art schools in the country that taught photography as a fine art as opposed to a commercial craft.

That meant the focus was on the aesthetics of “seeing” and translating that seeing through the camera and black and white film. It was a rich and avant garde environment in San Francisco’s North Beach, still ripe with coffee houses, artists, writers, poets and photographers.

For those of you who are experienced photographers, I always favored small, light cameras. My first camera was a Nikon S2 rangefinder, then a Leica M3 and an Olympus half frame. They were quiet, unobtrusive and inconspicuous.

Since discovering the iPhone I have rediscovered the sense of joy, passion, sheer fun and creativity I experienced in art school with those cameras. And I love it!

1 comment:

  1. Hi There...

    Love your work! I reposted this on Arielle Ford's site today, you can check it out on



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