NEW BEGINNINGS is the prompt for this week’s 52 Week Smartphone Challenge. A challenge by Khürt Williams.
The rules are simple: there’s a ‘theme’ every week and your photo has to be taken with a smartphone. For the fine print see the linked post.
This week’s challenge is ‘Our world is full of circular patterns; as some things end, others begin. Tell us a story of a New Beginning.‘
Always leave the cage door open, so the bird can return
I first heard of an ancient wisdom ‘Always leave the cage door open, so the bird can return’ during my early days in Kyoto, Japan. It does imply an end, a new beginning, and a possible return to the old way if the new beginning doesn’t prove to be fruitful after all.
I was trying to get a steady ‘supply’ of sosaku hanga (modern Japanese woodblock prints) for a gallery I was about to open in Amsterdam. I deliberately didn’t (want to) work with the endless stream of middle men, brokers and galleries in Japan to save both time and money. So here I was, a 21-year old half Dutch, half Chinese, with pockets full of borrowed cash, sitting opposite an elderly lady who was revered in Japan (and the US) as the leading artist in abstract sosaku hanga.
The Japanese Way
A slight complication was that I didn’t speak a word of Japanese. I had to rely on my girlfriend who was half Indian and half Japanese, to interpret for me. The other complication was that she didn’t believe in my plan of cutting out the middle men. At all! ‘Ah Han-chan, this is not the Japanese way nèh’ she would tell me over and over and over again. In fact, the last time she told me this, looking at her feet, was when we were just about to enter the artist’s atelier where I had successfully made an appointment only the week before. (Which led to another debate about respecting the Japanese way.)
My girlfriend had, for the short term successfully, tried to teach me the merit of patience. Which I needed in spades during that first meeting that went on for hours. The first hour or so was spent on exchanging pleasantries and me getting accustomed to the tediously slow pace of the translation.
So, finally after that long first hour or so, to our utter amazement, this lady artist said ‘shall we cut to the chase and discuss what you want exactly?’ Turned out she spoke (some) English, which made the going considerably easier. It took me less than half an hour to give my (well-rehearsed) sales pitch.
Completely in line with the ‘Japanese Way’, we were invited for a stroll around the garden, where nothing of any consequence was discussed. And then, more tea (I was dying for a glass of Vodka, preferably neat, by then).
To cut a long story short, the lady artist had some questions so could we hang around for a couple days and then come back for a follow up meeting.
This went on for another 10 days or so. My patience was wearing ever so thin, as was the remainder of my travel budget.
And then, in what appeared to be the final meeting, she gave me everything I had asked for. No middle men, all dealings directly with her, and a hefty discount on what Japanese and American galleries had to pay. The only thing she did not agree with is that I had first right to the valuable first ten of any numbered new series woodblock prints. (First come, first serve is where we left that.)
And with her onboard, it proved to be relatively easy, albeit just as time consuming, to broker deals with other artists. New beginnings truly. For me, for the lady artist who finally had a foothold in Europe, and for the sosaku hanga as a whole.
I will never forget the moment when she took my hands and answered my question ‘Why me over them?’, knowing full well any artist can only produce so much in any given time frame. Whatever she was selling me was basically taken from somebody else’s allotment. Wasn’t she afraid her regular customers would give her a cold shoulder if my adventure turned south?
And that is when she told this 21 year old this ancient saying, now almost 40 years ago.
Took this photo with my iPhone 6 (back camera 4.15mm f/2.2) and pimped it a little in Adobe Lightroom.