Category Archives: zen


YK Cemetary

Ilford HP5+ (ei1600) / Caffenol stand developed / Summaron f2.8 35mm / Leica M3

This shot was taken as the sun was going down over Yokohama.  Perhaps I should have saved this for Halloween, but I took it only a month or so ago so decided not to wait.  I like the similarity of the structures in this scene as well as its symbolic contrast.

My M3 had been languishing due to my preference for the smaller, lighter and simpler screw mount lllf, however I don’t have a 35mm for the screw mount and really like that focal length so have been using the M3 a bit more recently.

I guess it doesn’t need to be said, but the M3 really is a great camera in every way.  I think the large, bright view finder is its best attribute.  Like all older Leicas it is built so well and looks so nice that you just feel good using it.  Call it Leica therapy.  They may be a bit expensive but are still a lot cheaper than a therapist:-)  The M3 is so nice you could carry it around just to hold and show people (and some people do just that..).


Perspectives on Death

The West has such a dark and dismal approach to death- cold and lonely for all eternity, the worms nibbling at our flesh, etc.  While I enjoy the gothic Edgar Allen Poe flavour of it in stories, Halloween and whatnot, I don’t subscribe to it at all in my personal philosophy.

We cling to life and fear death, which is referred to as attachment in Zen, but as I understand it they compliment each other a bit like night and day. Without night you do not have day and vice versa, like yin and yang or the tides of the ocean.  If we are not attached to living so much I think we can enjoy it more.

In the last few months 3 people in my family have passed on.  My daughter was also in the hospital for a week with bad bronchitis and asthma.  This has caused me to reflect perhaps a bit more deeply about life recently.


“The essence of your mind is not born, so it will never die. It is not an existence, which is perishable. It is not an emptiness, which is a mere void. It has neither colour nor form. It enjoys no pleasures and suffers no pains.”

~ Tokushou Bassui (1327-1387) in a letter to a dying disciple





Photo 1) Agfa Isolette/  HP5/ HC-110, Photos 2, 3, and 4) Olympus XA/ Tri-x/ HC-110

Engakuji is a beautiful Zen Temple about 10 minutes walk from Kita-Kamakura Station, which is about 25 minutes by train SW  of Yokohama Station. It was founded by a patron of the Kamakura Shogunate in 1282. There are over a dozen different buildings and the public are able to participate in zazen, lectures, and tea ceremonies among other things.  It is quite nice for a relaxing stroll around, soaking up the “zen”. If you ever have the chance to visit the Tokyo/Yokohama area definitely don’t miss Kamakura.

On the brochure it says the following:

The fact that we are living here, now, in the present- this is the true meaning of the existence of Buddha. Nothing is more precious than this. How marvelous this is! How important it is to realize from the bottom of one’s heart! This is the way in which all of us, each in our true fashion, will awaken to the truth and each live, in our own way, a cheerful and happy life. This is the teaching of Zen.

I am guessing but I think it is likely that not many read this at all, but of those that do a very small percentage might wonder what it means.

Well for anyone interested and reading this this far I will attempt to explain as I understand it.  Essentially in Zen Buddhism we are taught that each of us have Buddha nature, and are enlightened already, however the problem is that we cannot see it for ourselves.  Most of the exercises done in buddhist training such as zazen and koans (koans are kind of like riddles meant to stump you and make you think outside the box) for example, are tools which if used over time wear down illusions, ego, and other superficial obstructions we have so that we can truly see. Enlightenment, among other things, is finally seeing this and being able to live in harmony with your true self, nature, and fully appreciative of the present (since that is all there is anyway).

A well known book called The Three Pillars of Zen (by Philip Kapleau) gives an example story from a Zen Master called Yasutani Roshi called The Parable of Enyatta. It goes something like this (long story short):

A girl loved her face so much she looked at it in the mirror all the time.  One day she looked in the mirror and her head was gone. In a panic she ran around everywhere asking who took her head. Of course they told her she was mad and that her head was of course there where it had always been.  She wouldn’t believe them since she couldn’t see it so they tied her to a post before she might hurt herself. With the body bound after a time the mind becomes more tranquil (Yasutani Roshi mentions that this this is comparable to zazen practice). Eventually she came to half believe that her friends might be right. Then at just the right moment someone hit her on the head and said, “There is your head!” At that moment she realized it and ran around telling everyone, “I’m so happy, I’ve got my head after all!” This, Yasutani Roshi says is Kensho (or enlightenment).  He goes on to say that it is really kind of delusional state since you are simply going around overjoyed at having found something you’ve had all along. Eventually this “delirium of delight” subsides and you are able to live a truly natural life. Nevertheless, unless you go through the process you are unable to find what you have had all along.

Ok, well that concludes tonight’s broadcast.  Nighty night:-)



No Clothes?

I came across this interesting article by Michael Sweet on the Huffington Post the other day regarding the current “street photography” culture.  He talks about how banal much of the photography is, and why all this bad photography exists.  It’s very good. It got me thinking about the internet photo community in general so I thought I would add some comments.

While in the States a few months ago I came across some prowling the streets, cameras strapped to hand with their pro-sniper straps, somewhat reminiscent of hunters (I actually came across a website that called itself Street Hunter..).  Their appearance as well as subject interaction looked different from footage I have seen of greats like Henri Cartier-Bresson or Gary Winogrand in action on the streets for example. As an aside, in appearance Gary Winogrand looked to me a bit more a like a nice old fisherman whereas these guys were a bit more like some special forces tactical unit in appearance.

Just because you can does it mean that you should?

Digital technology has made it possible to effortlessly take a photo that is perfect, at least in the technical sense of exposure and focus, and with a couple clicks in photoshop and boom, you have a photo that is nowadays commonly called “dope,” or “sick”. A couple more clicks and it can be online in a multitude of places ready for the reassuring clicks of approval from multitudes of friends and followers. It’s easier than ever to get the gear, a website, upload it, and join the millions of others doing the exact same thing.

1.8 billion per year and growing- for what?

The accessibility of photography both in a technical as well as economic sense has led to unprecedented popularity.  True, Kodak revolutionized photography a century ago by bringing cheap mass produced cameras to the average person, but hardly anyone saw the resulting photos.  The sheer volume of photographs ever accumulating online today is mind boggling.  The amount of photos shared online has apparently tripled just between 2013 and 2014 from 500 million to 1.8 billion according to one report.  Currently according to Flickr 8,600,000 photos are uploaded everyday!  Is it information overload? Maybe we are coming full circle since most of these photos today are not really seen either.  Even Flickr for example is selecting photographs to showcase on their own site based on “interestingness” algorithms. 

What is “good” or “art”- maybe best to leave that up to the algorithm?

Maybe in the future megapixels and memory will be such that we can just video with our camera and then an algorithm will help us select a number of the best shots from that day’s “photoshoot”.  We could even just attach it to our head and leave it on all day and night and let the computer due the work automatically overnight and when we wake up in the morning the photos will already be posted and some even will have received some likes and clicks from other computers based on algorithms and hopefully already selected by algorithms to showcase.. If there isn’t a scifi book about it already there should be.

What is “art”, “fine art”, and “good” or a “beautiful” photograph is a prickly subject(ive) of course (made all the more difficult by our own inability to define these terms). I’ll best stay away from this but if you get a chance I recommend the John Berger film on Youtube, Ways of Seeing for some interesting discussion about this.

Conformity of cliches

When I look at photo sites I see many photographs that are almost indistinguishable between different photographers.  It’s almost as if they could be computer generated algorithms. There’s the obligatory dock running out into the lake, the sparkly sunset with the tree, the long exposure creek or waterfall, and other cliches.  I wonder if they went to the same photography school.

What is real?

In Zen Buddhism there is a term Buddha Nature. It is in all things but most people cannot see it until they are able to understand themselves. A zen monk who lived in the 14th century called Bassui said, seeing ones own nature is buddhahood. I will call this nature truth.  I think real photographs capture truth. Why am I wandering around taking pictures? It is not simply because I like a pretty picture that looks like it belongs in a calendar. And anyway if that is all I wanted there are billions of “pretty” pictures online so that I don’t need to go out and make my own.  I think it is because I am searching for answers to bigger questions about this world as well as about myself.

Well, ok, now with all that said, I can say for me it is my goal to take “real” photographs and continuously improve my eye and my technique. But above all I will enjoy myself.

With that I will leave you with a photo of an empty cat food dish and a shadow I found in Chiba.  Is it really empty?? Haha!

Do not be misled! Look directly!  What is this? – Bassui