I have been looking at Japanese Surimono, literally ‘printed objects’ (Surimono from Osaka and Edo 2008). They are woodblock prints that combine text and images. “The term surimono came to mean prints commissioned by groups for writing kyouka, comic poems, or haiku, 17 syllable poems, as well as prints privately commissioned for New Years greetings” They were often created by poetry societies who commissioned an artist to produce an image to accompany the text. The poems were usually kyoka, poems in a line form of 7, 5, 7, 5, 7 syllables or haiku with lines of 5, 7, 5 syllables (Surimono 2001).
I have since been working on ways of producing my own combination of image and poem, not copying the Japanese form, but influenced by it. I recognised that while I have spent many years studying photography, I had spent no time at all studying poetry. To make the best possible combination of image and poem it would be necessary to have both of high quality. Not having the necessary skills and experience to write suitable poems I looked for someone who might be interested in a joint working project. A friend is a poetry tutor so I approached her to see if she knew of anyone who might be interested in this work. She recommended Anne who is a plant scientist as well as a published poet who was keen to work with me.
We had an initial discussion of what the project was about and how we could work together. We decided that I would send images to her and she would write a poem inspired by the photo. I would then combine the two. This is different from the original Japanese form where the image was inspired by the poem, but we were not looking to replicate Surimono, simply be inspired by it.
For each work I supply Anne with the image and my observations on it, what it says to me and why I chose it, she then writes the poem to accompany it.
Our first joint work is this dahlia, I wrote
Flowers have often been used in Vanitas paintings as a symbol of the transience of life, “Typical motifs are … a flower losing its petals” (Chilvers 2009:646). Flowers “especially with drops of dew, are symbols of short-livedness and hence of decay” (Hall 2008:301).
As such, the image can be seen as a metaphor for the plant life cycle and the threats to its future.
I find the asymmetric nature of this image appealing and, while the flower is about to lose all its petals, the exposed yellow centre attracts the eye and is symbolic of the cyclic nature in that seeds will form to propagate the plant.
Chilvers, I. (2009) The Oxford Dictionary of Art and Artists (4th Edition). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hall, J. (2008) Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art (2nd edition). Boulder CO: Westview.
I think that the final image works well, I really like the way that Anne has picked up on the origins of the plant in Central America, with the hints of the theft of a precious thing from indigenous peoples, as well as her references to my particular image of the flower.
Surimono (2001) At: http://www.aisf.or.jp/~jaanus/deta/s/surimono.htm (Accessed 09/07/2020).
Surimono from Osaka and Edo (2008) At: https://risdmuseum.org/exhibitions-events/exhibitions/surimono-osaka-and-edo (Accessed 09/07/2020).