October 2003, Volume 1, Number 4

The Modern Haiga Creation Process
By Ray Rasmussen

When I look at traditional Japanese Haiga art works, I see beauty in simplicity and form [even though I can't read the Japanese characters and appreciate the haiku and the link between haiku and art]. The calligraphy and even the artist's chop blends in and is part of the visual presentation. Like haiku, a haiga painting is bare bones, a form of minimalist painting.

Modern haiga is like modern haiku - in the process of becoming. Whatever it becomes, it will be something very different than traditional Japanese haiga.

Types of Modern Haiga

In looking over current haiga practitioners whose work appears on the
Internet, I find several varieties of artistic expression: 1. Art work done with brushes and paint [art haiga?]; 2. photographs with haiku written near the photograph [photo-haiku]; 3. photographs with haiku integrated into the photograph or its frame [photo-haiga?]; and 4. digital art work [digital-art haiga?]. Of course, there are still practitioners of the original haiga, 5. traditional brushwork haiga. I have placed question marks beside some of the categories because, at present, there are no agreed upon names or categories.

The Issue of Juxtaposition

In addition, some of the art work or photography acts as a direct representation of elements in the haiku [e.g., a haiku about a flower will be accompanied with a photograph or art work depicting a flower] and, some, just as is the case with modern haiku, reach for an element of juxtaposition Š the image and haiku are not obviously directly related and the image is an attempt to translate a deeper meaning or mood of the haiku.

I could classify my own approach to modern haiga as a combination of
3 [photo-haiga] and 4 [digital art haiga]. I begin my process in one of two ways: A. starting with the haiku or B. starting with the image.

A. Starting with the haiku

When I read haiku of current haijin or of the published haiku masters, images usually jump into my mind. Some of these images come from photographs that I have already taken. Some don't exist and I go out and take a photograph that corresponds to the image that has come to mind. Sometimes these images are direct representations, e.g., when Basho mentions an iris, I see an iris in my mind, look through my iris photographs, and sometimes simply place his haiku directly on
an iris photograph. However, some would say, and I would tentatively
agree, that such direct representation doesn't enhance a haiku that already stands alone and that has stood the test of time or that has been judged as outstanding by current haijin. Whether the image + haiku makes the haiku more pleasant to read, I don't know, but I do know that many of us are visually oriented and that a visual entry to the mood of the haiku or to some element of it could enhance our motivation to read the haiku. At other times, and here I don't how the process happens, the image that jumps to mind isn't a direct representation of any of the specific words in the haiku. Instead, the image I imagine contains a mood or a feeling that one can associate with the mood or feeling of the haiku. This would be considered a juxtaposition. I tend, more and more, to prefer these sorts of representations Š and to reach for juxtaposition between haiku and image.

B. Starting with the image

In the well-known photo-haiku process established on-line by Mitsugu
Abe, people look at photographs and write haiku to accompany them. These are posted beside the image Š the two stand alone as linked but separate elements. This is an example of category 2, photo-haiku.

My own approach to haiga is different. First, I work primarily from photographs, some of which I use directly and some of which I modify
by using software to painterize or otherwise alter the photograph. If successful, the product becomes a form of digital art. In either case, pure photograph or digitized art derived from a photograph, ideas for haiku come to mind [desk haiku in this case] based on what I see in the image and in its expressed mood. More and more, I tend to reach for juxtaposition Š the created haiku which itself contains a juxtaposition between two internal elements is itself created to achieve a juxtaposition or indirect association with the image.

Tools of the Trade:

In my photography work, I use a good camera [Nikon SLR manual], high quality lenses [Nikon Macro 105 mm for flower close-ups; Nikon 28-200 mm for landscapes and portraits], and a good tripod. I use film that produces vibrant colors. Fuji Velvia 50 and Provia 100 are the two films that I prefer.

In my digital art work I usually start with a photograph and use photoshop software and a selection of photoshop filters made by both
photoshop and other companys to painterize or modify the image. A photoshop filter is what it sounds like Š if you look at an image through sunglasses [a form of filter for the eyes], some of the contrast or glare is taken out of what you see. Similarly, the photoshop filters are a very powerful tool for altering images. A large variety of painterly effects can be achieved and as well everything that photographers once did in the dark room can now be done on a computer screen, cropping, dodging, burning, color saturating, reducing or enhancing contrast, combining images, removing elements, etc. etc.

Some of my haiga images are pure photographs and have at most been cropped, framed, and added to with the haiku poem. Others have been dramatically modified from the originals, indeed, the original and the end image could not be easily matched in some cases.

Why haiga?

Just as many haiku poets at some point ask themselves why they want to write haiku, haiga artists might ask the same question. For me, the answer is one of focus. With both photography and haiku, a big part of the motivation has to do with the process of doing Š slowing down on a walk and taking something in that becomes the subject of a haiku, or paying attention to a haiku moment. With photography, this involves focusing my lens on a wildflower and looking at it in a way that I wouldn't have had I merely glanced at it as I passed by. A second part of my motivation to produce haiga images from the haiku of others is that it helps me to focus on the haiku poem, to gain a sense of what it means, its mood and color [can a haiku have a color?]. The haiga image becomes my expression, my "here's a picture of what I hear and feel when I read the poet's words". A third motivation is that the computer screen is an especially color-vibrant canvas for art work. Creating haiga images is an excuse for working in form and color. Whether the digital-art or photograph indeed enhances the haiku is an issue of importance for viewers of the work, but for me, it isn't the essential issue. The essence is process Š getting more deeply into a poetic experience through the mediums of photography and computer digital work. Of course, it's also nice if folks out there, you readers and viewers of the work, also enjoy it.

Someone once likened the work of a poet to that of stuffing messages
into bottles and casting them adrift in the ocean. The poet doesn't know who will find the bottles, nor how the poems will be received. I, myself, find such messages in bottles [the work of haiku masters and current haijin], and feel moved to create images associated with their messages. In doing so, my process of identification with the poet isintensified. Whether my messages, these 10 images cast adrift via this issue of Simply Haiku, are found by you and whether they move you is up to you. Like most creators who cast their messages adrift, I hope that they do.


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