Faraway 2

Faraway: On the Potency of Death
Tsuyoshi Saeki, Editor-in-Chief, The Feel of Wonder
October 19, 2013

Last night I stopped by Zeit-Foto Salon in Tokyo’s Kyobashi district to see Faraway, an exhibition by Yumiko Izu that highlights her commitment to remaining analog in this age of digital ascendency. Looking at her platinum-print photographs of animal skulls taken with an 11x14 view camera, I was reminded that the allure of photography lies in its concentration of substance—capturing as it does for us the continuity of time in a single still image rendered by a chemical reaction.

In our lifeworld today, the one-zero polarity of digital thinking has stripped away an enormous amount of important information—information that in truth we need the most. Things that defy description. Things whose real nature remains elusive to us no matter how carefully we watch and listen, and yet we know to be precious just the same. These gray areas are really the more significant realms for a life lived meaningfully. Take “death” for instance. From a digital perspective, its valence is like zero—something like “the end” or “nothing.” But do we really want to view something that awaits all of us in that way? Don’t those definitions dismiss something that’s key to our deeper experience of life itself?

When flesh gives way to bare bones, we’re left with an even greater impression of that being’s substance than when it was cloaked in skin and muscle. The skeletal frame is truly profound. Flesh carries too many different meanings. With that polyvalence removed, we feel more strongly the organism’s inherent matter, its atomic essence. It emits, ever so quietly, a certain kind of energy—something like a voice that was difficult to hear when it was still encased in flesh. Garbed though we observers are in our own flesh bodies, upon hearing it now the voice resonates within us. It is the voice of spirit.

The flesh body is destined to perish eventually, a fact we are helpless to do anything about. Facing a skeleton, we become consciously aware of the bones that support our own bodies. Our inner voice—spirit if we’re going to call it that—can be thought of as a quiet energy released by the very atoms of our bones. From the most ancient times, people have interred bones with ceremony. Isn’t that precisely because these fleshless artifacts possess some quality that makes us more receptive to spirit? Today, cremation and the retrieval of cremains for internment have become so commonplace that perhaps the mystique of the ritual is no longer there. Even so, most of us respond to the sight of bones with some sense of awe. It seems to me that we all share an innate understanding that spirit abides within them.

Capturing that subtle voice—moreover, presenting its message intact in a form for others to witness—is a time-consuming process that demands much careful thought. Far more than a mere record, Izu’s photographs, taken with an ultra-large format camera and rendered as true-to-size contact prints, seem the very embodiment of their subjects’ timeless essence. Faithful to the meaning of “photo-graphy”—drawing with light—they underscore her determined effort to reveal truth itself, manifest as substance.

One needs to be ready to see the works of Faraway, the nature of its subject being what it is. Still, taking pause to consider the ultimate phenomenon of death rewards us with a greater zest for the life we have. There is no avoiding the demise of our flesh body, but we can find solace in the knowledge that something eternal rests within us all, whether it be bones or spirit. Death is something ever present within the living self. That’s how I like to see it.