Words and Pictures

In Praise of Shadows by Tanizaki

I was returning to a very special place, Watersmeet in North Devon – a place where I had experienced deep emotions of both sorrow and great joy.

I had read ‘In Praise of Shadows’ by Tanizaki in preparation for my visit in the hope that I would find inspiration for a new set of images. Instead, this beautiful book presented me with a serious challenge. The place I was visiting did not offer stillness. It would not reduce confusion to simplicity. This vibrant valley bursts with energy, life and chaos – it demonstrates the true force of nature and the flow of life.

Yet one particular sentence in Tanizaki’s reflections struck a chord with me. He was describing the qualities of the main room in a traditional temple and how they made him feel.

‘Have you never felt a sort of fear in the face of the ageless, a fear that in that room you might lose all consciousness of the passage of time, that untold years might pass and upon emerging you should find you had grown old and grey?’

This thinking I could understand. Mine was not a room in a temple, but a tranquil spot on an otherwise energetic, fast flowing river. It was a place where the light shone through the canopy of trees creating reflections that illuminated the golden light of the stones in the riverbed. Here I could attempt to condense the confusion of boulders, water, trees and stones into a collection of meaningful images. Amongst the busy richness of all the elements would it be possible to simplify such abundance? Perhaps in this particular place, where I had often experienced the lightness and darkness of a multitude of emotions, I could explore the depth and detail of my own shadows and find a sense of peace and simplicity.

On one of my previous visits, I had written this poem which I will include here.


Here there are no formalities.

The powerful energy of water thunders down the valley, cascading over rocks and boulders shifting all in its path.

No themed flower arrangements to confuse the mind, but nature in all its glorious disarray.

Light flickers through unglazed windows of branches robed in vestments of green.

Trees wrapped in a sponge of moss genuflect in the breeze bestowing blessings of priceless jewels upon my head.

In the crystal clear water, I find clarity of mind free from the ambiguity of doctrine.

This heavenly earth is within my being and I am filled with its riches – now.

I have included this poem because it gives an overall picture of the valley. However, for this project I decided to write very short poems in the style of the Japanese Haiku. The true form is very exacting, but I have taken the liberty of writing in a more relaxed way. It seemed appropriate to make each syllable count in the same way as I hoped to reduce the visual elements into coherent images.

As we drove deeper into the expansive Devonshire hills and valleys, I began to feel the usual emotional unrest I often have on returning to this part of the world. I had been born in Appledore, a small village further along the North Devon coast. At the age of fifteen I started to spend most school holidays away from home living in lodgings and working as a waitress in a café where the Watersmeet rivers flow into the sea in the village of Lynmouth. It offered me the chance to come to terms with the death of my father and my mother’s remarriage. My life was moving in a different direction, breaking the norms and expectations of my family and birthplace. Spending time here allowed me to be me. Many years later I still return.

I have made four sets of images (see Watersmeet Gallery) and each one is accompanied with a haiku. Each set is intended to work as a triptych.

Almost There!

Devon! Is this home?
Avalanche of memories
Waves of emotion.

Images 1- 3

Crystal clear water
Studded with golden jewels.
Gathered hillside tears.

Images 4- 6

Raindrops, streams, rivers
Cascading over huge rocks
Moving urgently.

Images 7- 9

There is no moment.
Time’s flowing like a river
Never repeating.

Images 10 - 12

Tangled, twisted oaks
Soft, damp moss jackets hug trees
Branches searching light.

Additional Haiku

Space all around me

Rolling hillsides painted green
Valleys thick with trees.

‘We find beauty not in the thing itself, but in the patterns and shadows, the light and the darkness, that one thing against another creates ……Were it not for the shadows, there would be no beauty.’

In life, happiness and sadness are constantly interwoven. Between the light and the darkness, we find the shadows and it is there that the depth and meaning of life can be found. We cannot design our lives as we might design our homes. Life is full of movement and surprises. We can, however, accept that even the darker moments often offer unexpected benefits and beauty. Our lives will not always shine like polished silver. Perhaps we would appreciate life more if we learned to enjoy it, ‘when the lustre has worn off and it has begun to take on a dark, smoky patina’.