To find an example of man giving nature its proper respect, look no further than Kyoto, Japan. The city is Japan's seventh-largest with nearly 1.5 million people and was home to the emperor from 794 to 1868. But it isn't the people--emperors or otherwise--who cause visitors of Japan to flock by the day-trip busloads to Kyoto.
The real draw is the landscape that provided the beautiful settings of Lost in Translation, Rashômon and Shogun and was featured in 1993's Gardens of the World With Audrey Hepburn (admit it, you watched it just because it was Audrey). Kyoto is home to innumerable temples and shrines, torii (gateways) and other historical structures that exist in distinct harmony with their natural surroundings. Kyoto was, thanks to its historical value, excluded from World War II air raid targets. Thus, the ancient city and its many gardens, flowering cherry trees, maples and structures such as the Golden Pavilion remain. And they remain immaculately landscaped, respected and revered like no place you'd find in our plant-trodding society.
Photographer Dornith Doherty understands this. "The historic gardens of Kyoto represent a relationship between humans and nature that is so enduring that it is not possible to find anything in the United States that approaches it," she says. It's natural that photographers would be attracted to Kyoto and its gold-plated architecture and peaked roofs, which are well-married with layer upon layer of lush foliage and delicate blossoms. The options for straightforward photos are unending. The complex natural settings allow for unusual lighting, filtering and shooting techniques. The scenes are resplendent, and what the eye finds through the lens can be as illuminating as being able to photograph a dream.
In her exhibition Temporal Screens: Photographs From Kyoto, Doherty continues her proclivity for shooting landscapes (past exhibitions include 2003's Exploring the Rio Grande, 2002's Uncanny Landscapes and 1994's Reenchanting Nature). She explores how within a landscape one can see the human opinion of it; how even though something may be termed "wilderness" man has liability when it comes to the fate of that land. And Kyoto offers an example of a happy marriage between man and his managed wilderness.
Through these natural, terrestrial "screens"--be they veined leaves, sunny canopies or something as simple as mist--Doherty filters her own vision of landscape traditions, both Eastern and Western. The progress from ages of interacting with the environment are highlighted with the Eastern focus, but looking at these works as a Westerner makes it difficult to accept how we treat our landscapes. And yet Doherty allows us to question our own motives without any hint of tree-hugging conceit hidden in her vibrant and eloquent photographs. Looking at works such as "Bamboo Crane"and"Daitokuji Perimeter," it seems clear that despite the somewhat anonymous settings (in many pieces it isn't clear but for the name that the site is in Kyoto), the beauty within them can't possibly be from anywhere we see on a daily basis. After all, Kyoto has centuries of respect in its gardens, while fast-food wrappers litter the fence of our arboretum. It's tough medicine to swallow, but it's in the most beautiful of packaging.
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