a photowalk in the Waitpinga bushland

Whilst I photograph using my eye Maya checks out the myriad of smells from the rabbits, foxes and kangaroos that wander through the bushland. In the philosophical tradition sight is primary as it the sense of light, clear detachment, rational analysis and forms whilst smell (olfaction) is the dark mirror of animal desire, instinct and sensuality. Until Nietzsche.

With Nietzsche the stress on scent and lingering odors is interpreted as a resistance to abstraction and an affirmation of the corporeal, of the vital and animal element in human beings. Nietzsche understands himself as tracking the historical scent trail of the death of God, which cannot be seen in the clear light, but is felt as the atmospheric cultural decay and decomposition.

We come across a pink gum (Eucalyptus fasciculosa) that has recently fallen over from the coastal winds, and though now horizontal, is still alive as some of its roots remain in the soil.

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leaves + trunk

Currently I keep an eye out for the loose bits of hanging bark as I am working on a bark series that has emerged from these early morning bush land walks. The bark peels off the trunks of the pink gums in autumn, and occasionally the odd piece becomes caught on a branch and hangs, moving from the wind.

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hanging bark

This is prinarily hand held snap photography. Often. though, I return with a film camera and tripod to photograph what I have previously snapped or scoped. However, the movement of the hanging bark makes long exposures with a large format view camera very difficult.

The bark doesn’t hang for long as it falls to the ground with the appearing and disappearing southerly winds from the west and the east that flow through the bush. The bark is an Australian example of the Japanese aesthetic category of mono no aware.

The ground in late autumn becomes sprinkled with the fallen bark and, quite frequently, the bark often forms a pile on top of the decaying leaves at the base of a tree. Despite its fleeting nature, the smell of the decaying matter on the ground after the rain opens up time and the history of the flux and impermanence of the bushland.

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bark pile

That bark slowly decomposes and the colour of the fallen bark fades into a dull grey during the winter and spring.

So the bushland is constantly in flux, even though it appears to be the same. The span of time, or the history of the bushland can also be seen in the various piles of the bleached skeletons of various dead animals.

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The Japanese aesthetics that informs this kind of photography opens up ways to explore the randomness of a bushland that appears as if it were not created by human hand. If we dig deeper into Japanese philosophy we find an engagement with early twentieth western philosophy; as can be seen in the discussions in Heidegger’s essay  “A Dialogue on Language: Between a Japanese and an Inquirer” ( in Heidegger On the Way to Language) between Heidegger, Kuki Shūzō and Tezuka Tomio around the nature of the thinking dialogue, Kuki’s concept of iki in Japanese aesthetics and the idea of emptiness in language.

Nietzsche and Heidegger were also central to the engagement between Western and Japanese philosophy in the early to mid 20th century by Watsuji Tetsurō  and then the third and fourth generation of Kyoto School philosophers with Heidegger’s late poetics philosophy. Another example in this field of intercultural philosophical dialogue is Karaki Junzō ‘s 1952 book Shi to dekadansu (Poetry and Decadence) as it links Baudelaire and Nietzsche with the poetics of Matsuo Bashō and Ikkyū. Karaki highlights the integration of subjectivity and world, and a poetics of being with and within things, not about them.

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tangled bark

What I found informative in this field of meandering intercultural philosophical dialogue was Kuki Shūzō‘s essay “A Reflection on Poetic Spirit,” in which he argues that the constant change of wind, manifesting itself through, and with other things, is a contingent, unique movement, rather than as an unchanging substance. It is the living image of the aesthetic category of fūryū (wind aesthetic) that is central to Bashō ‘s poetics.

This is a situation where something material “comes to the fore” (and vanishes), gaining (or losing) form and presence in the process. With its action the coastal wind blowing on the leaves keeps revealing its moving image all while keeping itself invisible. The formless flow of the wind can only be glimpsed by the trembling of the trees. This helped me twist free from the modernist tradition of Kantian aesthetics.