Friday, August 5, 2016

MA - the Japanese concept of negative space

By now the Japanese term, "bokeh", representing quality of the area of a photograph that is out of focus, but how many of us are aware of the Japanese concept of "Ma" referring to the area of space between things. Ma, like bokeh, gives meaning to the concept of space as a substance. Ma isn't a line separating things. It is more a void between things. It has its own substance, much like bokeh does.

Ma is the silence between musical notes that gives pause and meaning to the notes themselves.

Ma is at the core of Minimalism, and, if you've been following this blog for any time, you know I am a Minimalist at heart.

Before I was a photographer, I was a painter. One exercise we performed in painting classes was to paint the surrounding area of the subject before us, as opposed to painting the subject itself. This taught us a lot about composition. I think of Matisse while I write this. Matisse was an artist whose compositions were built more around the space, the "Ma", than around the subject.

In our western culture space is often defined by walls, very solid walls. In japan these same separation may only be the very delicate, and even semi-transparent, shoji screens made of paper. The division is less important than the space divided. In the photos below the space surrounding the forms infuses the subjects with meaning in space/time as a result of their reverence to the space itself.

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