About IN EASTERN LIGHT, a portfolio of diptychs from Maine

I photographed most of these diptychs while at Brooklin, Maine in the spring and summer of 2007. Loving nothing better, I woke early most days to hunt photographs around the Blue Hill Peninsula. The area encompasses an astonishing diversity of subjects, and I concentrated on the sea, water, boats, land and local architecture. Water takes countless appealing forms in Maine, and the land too can be dramatic or subtly beautiful.

This diptych format is a continuation of my previous multi-image and photo-collage work. While taking a History of Japanese Art with Tanya Ferretto Steel at Harvard Extension School, I was inspired to work in a new diptych format by the many fine examples of multi-panel Japanese screen painting that Dr. Steel presented. I particularly admired the works of the artists Sakai Hōitsu (1761-1828) and Hishida Shunsō (1874-1911), whose paintings combine a harmonious sense of design with both gentle minimalism and an attention to details in their subjects. Like most Oriental screens, Japanese folding screens are made of two or more vertical panels joined together. I realized these qualities could be emulated in color photography using a 645 medium format camera, and decided to work out a technique to echo these great paintings.

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Figure 1: Sakai Hōitsu. Grasses and Flowers in Spring and Fall. Pair of two panel folding screens.
Color on silver leaved paper. Edo period. Tōkyō National Museum.

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Figure 2: Hishida Shunsō. Fallen Leaves (Ochiba). Right screen of a pair of six panel folding screens.
Ink and Color on silk. 1909, Meiji Period. Eisei Bunko Museum, Tōkyō.

In the spring of 2007 I began using my Bronica RF645 rangefinder, which makes vertical negatives on medium format film, to shoot two frames of adjacent views, composing carefully in the camera. For instance, in Otter Cliffs, Acadia National Park, Maine 2007, I shot the left frame (7<) first capturing the cliffs and climbers, and then waited for the lobster boat to enter the scene on the right before exposing the right negative (8<). When printing, I used a 4x5” optical enlarger to print each pair of images together on conventional RA4 color photo paper. I included the black frame around the negatives to echo the black-lacquered frames of some Japanese paintings and because I like the way the pictures look with black borders.

I have come to realize that I enjoy longstanding artistic interests which align with Japanese aesthetics. My aunt Pat Austin, a commercial photographer, used to tease me for my propensity to photograph dilapidated buildings, but I always admired the worn and antiquated structures. So I find I’ve always been fond of what the Japanese call sabi, literally “rust”, the aesthetic of love for objects damaged by age. An example in this portfolio Island Marine Const., Benjamin River, Sedgwick, Maine 2007, depicts a steel-hulled boat, once used to haul construction materials to islands, now abandoned to corrosion. In contrast, Wooden Boat School Dock, Brooklin, Maine 2007 shows a restored dock and old boathouse still used for teaching sailing and boating.

I am also sympathetic to a Japanese art concept called wabi, the appreciation of simplicity. In my Sunrise, Herrick Bay, Brooklin, Maine 2007, I shot simply, making an uncomplicated seascape, with the foggy atmosphere having muted many details. The indistinct horizon almost obscures the difference between sky and bay. But by splitting these images between two frames, I do add some complexity, compelling the viewer to do some visual processing to make the pictures whole again.

I plan to continue expanding this body of work in the near future, because taking two photographs to capture a scene makes a more fascinating final object for me than a single image. I also plan to experiment with pairs of diptychs and four-image panoramas using the same techniques.


Steven Keirstead Hac Facit MMXI, Copyright 1987-2011, Steven Keirstead Photography
Prints available on 8x10", 11x14", 12x18" and 20x24" Fujicolor RA4 paper
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