A Serendipitous Day with The NDPS Pictorialists Group

A Serendipitous Day with The Norwich and District Photographic Society Pictorialists Group at Corpusty Mill Garden

They say that accidental things are often the best, and last weekend was a perfect example of that. I had arranged to visit Joan and David, my photography friends in Norfolk. To our delight, they suggested that Shona and I join their friends from the Norwich and District Photographic Society for a day of photography at Corpusty Mill Gardens. The group, known as ‘The Pictorialists Group,’ intrigued me. Their website describes their aims based on the 2005 Encyclopaedia of Twentieth-Century Photography, which states that Pictorialism explores “the artistic possibilities of photography. Influenced by traditional arts, such as Impressionism and Symbolism, photographers arrived at a Pictorialist aesthetic often characterized by soft focus, a massing of highlights and shadows, and highly manipulated printing techniques.” The Norwich and District Photographic Society Pictorialist Special Interest Group builds on this with the idea of photography as craft.

I took along only my Fuji X100VI, which I’ve grown increasingly fond of, despite my uncertainty about the fixed 23mm lens being either a boon or a limitation. But as I am increasingly finding, it was perfect for a day of contemplative photo-haiku.

Meeting Roger Last : The Garden's Architect

However, the garden itself was anything but restrictive. Our host, Roger Last, has been nurturing the grounds since the 1960s after inheriting the land from his father, who had worked the mill for many years. It’s fascinating that a mill has existed on this land since Doomsday times!!

In 2023 Roger was announced as the winner of that year’s Gardens Trust  ‘Volunteer Award’ having been nominated for his NGT’s book ‘Enticing Paths’, a well-received 480-page hardback book containing over 500 colour images.

A Place to Feel Contemplative

Roger welcomed us warmly and encouraged everyone to explore freely. Although we all gathered for a pub lunch after a couple of hours and sheltered in one of the buildings when it rained, I found myself often alone, making contemplative photographs. This solitude was therapeutic, allowing me to immerse myself fully in the surroundings. I hope this reflective experience is evident in the Journal Photobook I’ve since designed and uploaded to my printers.

Spending the day in the beautiful, historical garden, guided by Roger’s deep connection to the land, was inspiring. The Pictorialists Group’s philosophy of photography as an art form resonated deeply with me, and I felt a renewed sense of creativity and purpose.

My Haiku Matsuo Basho Moment

古池や
蛙飛び込む
水の音
An old pond —
A frog jumps in
The sound of water

The most famous haiku is generally considered to be Matsuo Basho’s frog haiku. Written in 1686, it is renowned for its simplicity, depth, and the way it captures a fleeting moment in nature, making it a timeless piece of poetry that continues to be celebrated and studied around the world.

Basho’s haiku captures a moment of serene natural beauty, using simple imagery to evoke a deeper reflection on the nature of existence and the passage of time. By breaking down the elements of the haiku I think we begin  to understand its significance and why it has become so important to haiku poets:

Line by Line Analysis:

  1. “An old pond —”
    The mention of an old pond suggests a sense of timelessness and tranquility. The pond has been there for a long time, undisturbed, representing the enduring aspects of nature.

  2. “A frog jumps in,”
    The action of the frog jumping into the pond introduces a moment of sudden activity within the stillness. It symbolises a brief disturbance in the otherwise calm and ancient setting.

  3. “The sound of water.”
    The sound created by the frog’s jump, a small splash, is the culmination of the haiku. This simple sound highlights the interaction between the frog and the pond, emphasizing the fleeting nature of events against the backdrop of the timeless pond.

Themes and Interpretation:

  1. Impermanence and Change:
    The haiku illustrates the Buddhist concept of impermanence (mujō). The old pond represents constancy and endurance, while the frog’s jump and the resultant sound symbolize transient events that momentarily disturb this constancy.

  2. Momentary Beauty:
    Basho captures a moment that might seem insignificant at first glance but is profound in its simplicity. The haiku suggests that beauty and meaning can be found in the smallest and most ordinary events if we take the time to observe them.

  3. Meditation and Awareness:
    The haiku encourages a meditative state of mind, inviting readers to focus on the present moment. The clear, vivid imagery helps cultivate mindfulness and an appreciation for the here and now.

  4. Nature and Harmony:
    By presenting a harmonious interaction between the frog and the pond, Basho highlights the interconnectedness of all elements in nature. The haiku suggests a delicate balance between stillness and movement, continuity and change.

In essence, Basho’s haiku uses a simple scene to evoke a profound sense of connection with nature and an appreciation for the transient moments that define our experience of the world.

The Cartier-Bresson Basho Image

In one of the many moments of solitude that day, I found myself by the flowing river Bure, its waters weaving through the ancient Mill grounds, a silent witness to centuries of history. As I gazed upon its golden surface, illuminated by the gentle sunlight, my attention was drawn to the darting eels, shimmering like elusive spirits in the stream.

With a deliberate shift, I set my camera to capture the essence of this fleeting scene, opting for 11 frames per second in a burst mode. The silent shutter, a constant companion, lent an otherworldly quality to the process, rendering each click a silent whisper in the symphony of nature.

Yet, amidst this quiet communion with the river and my camera, my reverie was abruptly interrupted by the sudden splosh of a disturbance in the water. Just as Basho’s silence was shattered by the frog, so too was mine by this unexpected intrusion.

Curious, I examined the images captured in that moment of disruption, and there it was — an image frozen in time, a testament to the serendipity of the decisive moment, reminiscent of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s ethos. They say luck favours the prepared, but in that instant, it felt as though fate had intervened, guiding my lens to capture the perfect convergence of elements.

In the quiet contemplation that followed, I couldn’t help but reflect on the interconnectedness of chance and intention, the delicate dance between serendipity and skill. As the river continued its timeless journey, I was reminded once again of the beauty and unpredictability of life’s fleeting moments, each one a masterpiece waiting to be discovered.

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古池や 蛙飛び込む 水の音