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Photographs and Words
Lead Photograph is of Alan Summers and Karen Hoy
Article by Stewart Wall December 18th 2021
Coming from a newspaper background, where I worked as a press photographer, I am quite used to my photographs having captions associated with them. Outside of press photography, the debates about whether photographs should have words with them or not have always interested me.
Most of the debates that centre around 'photography and words', is about literacy and reading an image, and things like whether the words should describe the photograph, or whether the photograph should describe itself [i].
But what if the words attached to a image played a more oblique role, such as in Alan Summers' haiku above? Alan wrote “This haiku reminds us that nature can be unforgiving and be compassionate simultaneously—and most likely, this is all a matter of spontaneity [ii].
For several years now, I have had an interest in haiku. For example, in 2019 I created, as part of a research project during a PGCE course at the University Centre of Grimsby, a conceptual model of a Haiku Curriculum.
That project was about making a political statement about what curriculum was, and the text on the poster was not designed as haiku. I am now considering haiku in a different way, which is to increase engagement and enjoyment of photography, and life itself.
Writing Haiku to develop positive mental health
I am currently researching haiku patterns as a method to ensure strategic resilience in both the individual and developing resilient communities[iii]. I am asking if by combining ‘haiku and photography’ there is a potential to develop good wellbeing and positive mental health, and I am looking at creatives who use haiku for this purpose.
For example, Lauren has been writing Haiku since she was 5, and for her it is the process that is important. She writes “it allows me to let it go. I can reread it if I want. Or not. But it is there. I’ve made a record of it, so I don’t need to think about it anymore”[iv]
Ginko Photo Books
In December 2021 I suggested to RPS East Midlands member, Robert Herringshaw ARPS, who is a member of the British Haiku Society, that we might conduct a quick photobook project together, where we each spent the same Sunday morning taking photographs in our separate local churchyards, and then each chose 15 images to write a haiku to each. We both worked completely separately, 150 miles apart. After the book was made we both reported that by participating in the project our feeling of wellbeing and mental health lifted positively[v]
I am finding that experiencing making haiku increases my level of creative thinking when making the photography. In 2022 I plan to develop more understanding of this phenomena, by developing more understanding of this Japanese way of making poetry called haiku, that when linked to photography is sometimes called Photo-haiga, or the term that I see Alan Summers use more usually, ‘Shahai’, where ‘sha’ comes from the Japanese word ‘shashin’ and ‘hai’ from the word Haiku[vi].
Alan Summers and Karen Hoy and 'Call of the Page'
I would like to invite you to join me on this journey to developing more understanding by attending this event. I have invited Alan Summers, and his colleague Karen Hoy, who are western specialists in making haiku to talk to us about their life with haiku.
Alan is a former president of the United Haiku and Tanka Society [vii], and between them, Alan and Karen run ‘Call of the Page’ which is dedicated to helping others develop their engagement with writing words, and photography through the concept of Shahai. They run courses throughout the year[viii]
If you would like to learn more about Haiku and Shahai book your space at this event on March 30th, 2022, at 7pm to learn more from Alan and Karen. In the meantime, have a look at the video (above) of Alan talking about Haiku.
Stewart Wall MA ARPS
Regional Organiser RPS East Midlands and Central
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