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Thursday, 19 March 2015


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Ken's photo was a little slow loading, and I had pretty much finished reading your description when it started coming up on my iPad. Truthfully I am afraid I was expecting another minimalist beach scene which are all to common these days.. Instead there it was, the dynamic power of the surf on a less that perfect day. Excellent indeed.


Have you ever viewed David Baker's 'Sea Fever' series? I think you will like it!

Regards, Brian

There is a modest little book of black & white photographs, made in Cornwall that cleverly echoes Hokusai’s Mount Fuji series. By Trevor Burston, the title is “36 Views of Saint Michael’s Mount”. The book's printing and layout are effective and tidy, though there are virtually no posted pictures from it.

While an entirely different medium, the woodblock process has parallels with film photography. In order to create a print, the artisan must cut a different woodblock for each color. Every block thus contains only a small segment of the whole image, but in the end they must align perfectly or else the lines and colors will overflow into other sections. Furthermore, since the raw paper sometimes becomes the "white" sections, the carver has to be able to set those areas off by making them negative space in each block, and the grey sky in the Fuji print necessitated a delicate application of sumi-ink wash that went around the white to create that effect. This reminds of me the need in photography to get the bands in the light spectrum to overlay as we wish them to.

The printing process was done entirely by hand, one block at a time for each color, and so a mistake in the placement of the paper on the final block could ruin the work that went into the previous imprints for that sheet. The whole method involved the physical learning of a mechanical process, but when you see a master woodblock printer at work you see the synthesis of mind, body, and materials into one "flow." (The same applies to the craftspeople who make traditional paper umbrellas, embroidery, etc.)

The whole creation process itself can become an act of beauty, and I imagine we could say the same for printers like Adams or Ctein, or for any other master of their craft.

(On a related note, the Japanese like to talk about the "way of the samurai", but I think the "way of the craftsman" would be a better ideal to represent of Japan's cultural legacy.)

Download a high-res (148 MB tiff) scan of The Great Wave from the US Library of Congress.


Nice article, and nice photograph by Mr. Jensen.

I was at the MFA on Monday, and the wave is looming large there.

I also saw this:

As well as a Gordon Parks exhibit, of photographs he made on returning to his hometown in 1950. It was on assignment for LIFE, but I guess the story never ran.

Anyway, they had the catalog there, and it was fun to compare the Steidl printed book directly to the prints. The book held up pretty well. It was a good show, worth checking out for anyone in Boston.

"...Hokusai's woodcut "The Great Wave," can you picture it in your mind?"

Well, yes I can, and it doesn't look like that. That one looks seriously faded, the blues muted, the colors of the boats almost gone, sky streaky, with cloud detail missing. Here's that "... vibrant Prussian blue ..."

I'm not saying you're wrong. You appear to have used the image from the WSJ, which is credited "Photo: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston", so I must assume it is a photo of their original.

As the Met exhibit runs concurrent with the MFA, theirs is a different copy, and indeed, it looks in better shape.

We almost certainly will miss the MFA, but as it happens, Carol's sister's 60th. birthday is in early Sept., so we will be in NY for the big "surprise" party while that exhibit is running. I may be able to see it in person (again, I believe, but it's been so long ...)

I do like Ken Jensen's image. It reminds me of many other waves, including a beautiful print from a friend on my wall.

It also reminds me of revelations about Monet and water I received from the show Monet in Normandy at the SF DeYoung Museum a few years ago. It was the first Monet show or book I'd seen that was arranged chronologically.

I was amazed to see the progression of his depiction of sea water. In early paintings, the water in harbors was flat and unconvincing. Then, suddenly, from one to the next, he had figured out how to create a realistic looking/feeling impression of the small waves of a harbor.

At least in this exhibit, which covered most of his active painting life, he never did figure out how to do incoming ocean waves convincingly. Obviously the curator was well aware of this, and included a single Corot of a wave breaking on a beach in golden light, to show how it's done.

Without a problem.

Woodblock printmaker David Bull is documenting on youtube the different steps of his own reproduction of the print. He has lots of interesting comments on this unique printing technique and the great wave itself.

Re: Jochen Brueggemann. You might be right, but I've encountered similar lighting conditions many times when shooting landscapes. All it takes is a small opening in the clouds for the sun and you can have an absurdly bright foreground combined with extra dark clouds behind. Adjusting for white waves or snow makes it even more of a contrast.

"As well as a Gordon Parks exhibit, of photographs he made on returning to his hometown in 1950. It was on assignment for LIFE, but I guess the story never ran."

Oh good!, We may be in Boston before it closes.

Gordon Parks is one of those few who may be accurately called men of many parts or renaissance men. I was privileged to have dinner with, and sit next to, him after a talk he gave in Oakland many years ago. An unaffected, thoughtful and delightful person to talk with.

"Download a high-res (148 MB tiff) scan of The Great Wave from the US Library of Congress."

Thanks so much for that link! The colors, particularly in the boats, are much better than in the WSJ site.

The scan doesn't reach the top of the histogram. Whether a true reproduction of an original that doesn't get to pure white anywhere or a scanning artifact, pulling it up to the top makes it look a little more open and appealing to me.

No way to know what an original looked like when new.

"As well as a Gordon Parks exhibit, of photographs he made on returning to his hometown in 1950. It was on assignment for LIFE, but I guess the story never ran."

Oh good!, We may be in Boston before it closes.

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