When photographer Michael Bodiam and sculptor Andrew Stellitano set out to collaborate, Michael happened to be reading In Praise of Shadows by iconic Japanese author Jun’ichirō Tanizaki. “It’s a short read but it’s packed with fascinating and inspiring observations,” Michael describes. “For me, the most captivating are when he explains how and why the beauty of certain surfaces, materials and objects can become elevated when viewed in near darkness.”
How the author addresses shadow, “not just as darkness but as an ethereal entity”, stirred ideas in the duo, who with their project of the same name have looked to explore this concept in a more abstract visual way.
Andrew started by making sculptural forms in clay and porcelain, each one a distortion or “shadow” of a previous piece. These were then used as focal points for light experiments in a photography studio. The final images use a static object, despite many seeming to capture movement, and a single light, sometimes direct and other times bounced off a larger surface to create multi-layered reflections.
Mysterious and highly abstract, the series of photographs embraces a monochrome palette and the beauty to be found in light and shadow – a contrast to the vivid colour in much Western imagery. Michael says this refers back to Tanizaki’s discussion of the polaric differences between Western and Japanese cultures.
“In the Western world, if something is beautiful, then it must be seen in all its glory and in full Technicolor,” he says. “This arguably eliminates opportunities for any sense of subtlety, deftness or mystery. On the other hand, traditional Japanese culture takes pleasure from these objects in an altogether different way. What we were trying to achieve with this project was something that felt more akin to this mentality. Tanizaki himself perhaps best sums this up in the following quote: “Modern man, in his well-lit house, knows nothing of the beauty of gold”.
In Praise of Shadows is published in a book designed by Each London.
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