reflection of hot air balloon with ducks 2010

This image was exposed around the summer solstice this year, the reflection of the balloon bright with rising sun as a family of mergansers swims toward it. Unfortunately I think it works better as a larger print than at this size on screen; here I miss the detail of the ducks and the detail of the curl of water at the bottom of the dam.

It’s funny how this image came up this week. All week I’ve been spending time looking at Ukiyo-e prints. Ukiyo-e means “floating world,” and everyone knows at least one of these images: Hokusai’s Great Wave. Maybe we know a few more Hokusai images or Hiroshige’s, or any number of the countless fantastic prints still available for viewing in museums, galleries and private collections. Also reproductions are available, and now with the magic of the indra-net, we can see thousands of them.

It’s been too too hot, and work a bit slow. Taking time to cool down and look through Ukiyo-e images has been a beautiful thing this week, and they float in my mind through the day and as I lay down to sleep and wake up.

It’s funny, even back when I only made black and white prints, many of the compositional techniques from this genre appealed to me — and even before I saw very many of these prints. Really, so many elements of the genre have permeated my work all along before I even knew much about it: the heartbreaking beauty, the transience, incongruity and tension between elements, and a dynamic tension in the composition. There is a quality of image-as-poem that I’ve always aspired to. The Henri Cartier-Bresson attention to geometry in composition is a tie to the photographic medium, and the Ukiyo-e images also simulate a sense of a “decisive moment” like Cartier-Bresson — though the woodblock carvers were far more free to work with their imagination instead of the far more restraining constraints of actual-moment that we photographers have to deal with.

Though I haven’t seen a hot air balloon or a duck (rabbits, swallows, frogs, carp, and cats are common), I like to imagine this image above as a modern Floating-World print.

Here are a few ukiyo-e images as thumbnails. The first one of these I bought as a reproduction on ricepaper while I was still in high school (inspired by a similar print on the wall of my flute teacher); I kept it thumbtacked to my wall all through college and for a few years after:

This print is for sale here.

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