Gary Anthes has produced a number of other books of fine-art photography, so far self-published in small quantities. The books, their cover photographs, and excerpts appear below.
Touch of Boundlessness
The quality of simplicity or lack of complexity opens up a creative space that is filled with possibility. In simplicity there is a touch of boundlessness. — John Daido Loori, Abbot, Zen Mountain Monastery
Not long after sunrise on September 21, 2011, I had a eureka moment. I had just made a photograph of an empty crab trap on a pier in Chincoteague, Virginia. The tiny image on the back of my camera appealed to me immediately. It reminded me of a Japanese or Chinese ink wash painting, one in which the artist accomplishes miracles with a few simple and stark strokes of brush or pen.
In his 1899 book Composition, the American artist, educator and photographer Arthur Wesley Dow said this about ink wash painting: “The painter put upon the paper the fewest possible lines and tones; just enough to cause form, texture and effect to be felt. Every brush-touch must be full-charged with meaning, and useless detail eliminated. Put together all the good points in such a method, and you have the qualities of the highest art.”
The crab trap picture became the catalyst for my undertaking a wide-ranging survey of East Asian art, religion and philosophy. I read about Japanese aesthetics, Zen Buddhism, wabi-sabi, the artistic philosophies behind haiku, yūgen, nōtan and sumi-e, and ideas related to those things. The resulting artistic concepts became not the basis for some new genre I would pursue, but an articulation of what I most value in my own photography. Foremost among them is simplicity–nonessential elements eliminated. Related to that is a sense of mystery (the story not completely told), often suffused with a feeling of serene melancholy. And if beauty can be said to be in these images, it is an imperfect or fading beauty.
I hope readers will see these ideas as a unifying framework for my photography. And I hope they will sense a freeing of the spirit, or imagination, that is implicit in much of East Asian art, and that I felt when making these photographs.
Cuba: Time and Place
Christopher Columbus said of Cuba’s native Taíno people in 1492, “They have the sweetest talk in the world and are gentle and always laughing.” But, a guidebook in which that appears goes on to say, “The Spaniards would change that forever.”
Indeed, over the ensuing years the Cuban people endured unspeakable atrocities and hardships at the hands of the Spanish (and others), including torture, slavery and decimation by European diseases. And of course the racial mix on the island today bears scant resemblance to that of 1492.
And yet, a visitor to Cuba today is almost at once struck by the guileless friendliness of the Cuban people, both in cities and on farms. Despite centuries of mistreatment at the hands of the Spanish, the U.S., and their own leaders, the people are infused with an optimistic affability that is difficult to explain. It shows up in the island’s exuberant art and music, in the simple but spicy foods, in the psychedelically colored old cars, and in the bonhomie among strangers in the streets. A brief exchange of greetings between a tourist and a Cuban may well result in an invitation into the Cuban’s home for a cup of coffee, no strings attached.
To me, the genuine warmth of the Cuban people is the nation’s most surprising yet endearing quality. What accounts for their temperament? Could there be some long, hidden thread to the gentle and laughing Taíno of 500 years ago?
There is something haunting yet alluring about the old, abandoned, and worn out remains of human creation. It could be the weather-beaten shell of an old house, unoccupied for decades but still standing; or the giant machines of uncertain purpose that stand silent in the gloom of a shuttered factory; or the vestiges of an ancient car, all rust and broken glass and cracked rubber. One tries to imagine the family that once lived in that house, the workers who faithfully tended that machine, and the young man or woman who once proudly piloted that car to work or church, or maybe to a weekend picnic spot. And one wonders where they are now. Might they still be alive?
But all is not melancholy in these views. There is often a dignity—a nobility, even—that emerges through the dust. One thinks of the care and skill that went into making these artifacts, and how they served faithfully and well over the years. They have a certain aging beauty that commands respect.
There is an aesthetic philosophy in Eastern cultures that holds that while a red rose may be beautiful, it is no less worthy when it has died, shriveled and faded to brown. So it may be that this notion of aging beauty is what attracts me to the kinds of scenes I present in this book. My own life is at least two-thirds in the past as I write this, and in these man-made remains I take comfort that twilight is not so bad after all.
It might seem that candy makers, yarn dyers, flower arrangers, mask carvers, and fabric makers have nothing in common. Yet these Japanese artisans share, in addition to a superb mastery of their art, a beguiling combination of confidence, courtesy and shyness. Few people in the West, and probably not many in Japan, have ever seen these craftsmen up close at their work, as I did. It is customary to leave a tiny gift with such masters after watching them work, but the quality of my gifts to them certainly didn’t equal the worth of theirs to me.
It isn’t just among Japanese craftspeople that one finds the quiet striving for perfection. Street vendors arrange their wares with precision and pride; leaf sweepers leave no trace; and gardeners tend their plants with the greatest of respect.