Photographs on washi by Kenji Miura
Kenji Miura is a professional photographer who has contributed to many major Japanese and American publications on Japanese cooking and crafts, such as International Hopefully, Kyoto Kitcho, Ikebana International, and Wingspan, edited by ANA Airlines.
a cookbook he collaborated on with Californian writer and cook Nancy Singleton Hachisu. It was elected one of the best cookbooks of 2012 in the United States. From the same partnership, ”
Preserving the Japanese Way” (2015) was acclaimed by literary critics of the New York Times, the Japan Times, the Los Angeles Times and the London Times.
Since 1981, Kenji Miura has created his own books of photographs on
Japanese culture, cuisine, and traditional crafts, published by Kodansha International and Andrews McMeel Publishing.
Kenji seeks to express his vision of Japanese nature, a traditional theme in Japanese aesthetics, which he researches and represents in a unique way. In addition, he wants
to preserve the memory of old Japanese cherry trees and the paper crafts, on which he prints his photographs.
To keep nocturnal memory of great cherry
Like many Japanese, Kenji Miura is animated by a sincere and tireless fascination with cherry blossoms and Japanese nature. But the landscape of cherry blossoms by night particularly affects him. The sight of cherry trees by night is called “yozakura” (夜 桜).
For over thirty years, Kenji has traveled Japan from east to west every year in the spring, at the time of flowering, in order to capture the most beautiful, the greatest, the oldest cherry trees in the country, such as shirade zakura (“weeping cherry tree”) and the famous taki-zakura (“waterfall cherry tree”) of Fukushima.
“Each photograph is unique. I choose the same cherry trees but they are different every year, especially in the north, where the branches are bent by the weight of the snow. The older ones have their branches supported by bamboos, as a grandmother who helps herself to walk with a cane,”; he says.
“Today, many of these old cherry trees have disappeared,” he explains, looking at his photograph of the old twisted trunk called “curve of bonzai.”.
To express the beauty of Japanese nature and to preserve the craft
The Takenobu team met Kenji Miura in a papermaking studio in Ogawa City, in Saitama, the countryside of Tokyo. He was accompanying an American writer and documented his next article about this paper for Ikebana International Magazine.
To share his sense of immersion in a world of delicacy, he started to print his black and white photographs on the traditional Japanese paper (washi), handmade with 1,400 year old methods, and with only local natural materials. These techniques and materials of quality make the paper almost as strong as fabric, although transparent.
Prior, the photographic paper didn’t allow the artist to express the subtle and profound world he felt facing the great cherry trees by night. Lessons learned from traditional craftsmanship allowed him to rediscover Japanese paper, optimally used daily, nestled in traditional houses, against the walls, as a decoration, as calligraphy supports, and to diffuse the light.
Since Westernization, many simple products that enriched everyday life are gone. So, with his photographs on washi, Kenji hopes to renew the art of paper into an interior design that transforms the living space, and that allows us to enjoy the season and Japanese culture.
Between calligraphy and photography: unique techniques
Kenji Miura prints his photographs in a darkroom, with a unique and partly secret technique. Firstly, the photographer “paints” the paper with a photosensitive liquid, using the technique of “Art emulsion” from Fujifilm. He then leaves it to dry for two days in the darkroom.
Kenji takes all his photographs by night so that the liquid becomes black when printing. Then, he chooses to spread it using a broad brush to let appear traces such as those left by a large brush in calligraphy on washi. The photographer selects the handmade paper from the Shikoku region for its residues of plant fibers and transparency.
The process is the same as the one used to print monochrome photographs: development, fixing with photographic enlarger, washing and drying. The most important step is to clean the washi from the non-exposed chemical residues on the emulsion.
If the process is carefully crafted, natural Japanese paper keeps its high quality and its color for a very long time, fifty years or more (the accounting books made of washi and used by Japanese Buddhist monks were found white and intact after several centuries).
Special Features and Uses
The works of Kenji Miura are unique for their medium, aesthetics and uses.
The choice of ink emulsion to print transparent white cherry trees on a black background is original in Japanese aesthetics, giving them a dark and fascinating appearance.
The visible traces of the brush as in calligraphy is reminiscent of a delicate beauty and transience of nature, with the Japanese paper enhancing the sensation of the natural material.
The transparency and malleability of washi allows people to play with light and the various uses of the artworks. In front of a window or turned into a lantern, we can spread a light source and see through the cherry trees. It can be framed under glass in the Western way, or in the traditional Japanese way “Kakejiku” (without glass, with only two sticks up and down), or carefully adhered directly against a surface using a natural adhesive… unleash your imagination or consult us!