Meaning in Photography
Create your own haiku photographs in Photoshop. Find out why photographers love photo haiku. Touch on the aesthetics of haiku.
Why are so many photographers exploring and enjoying haiku? Abe Museki, the originator of the photo-haiku genre, once wrote: “photo-haiku has succeeded in the Internet world because photography matches haiku so well."
Words and pictures together are more potent than either alone. Haiku photography combines an image with a short poem to link the essence of nature with human life. The idea is not to describe, but to allow readers to experience, in their imagination, the same feeling you felt, when you saw beauty.
Haiku appeals to a spectrum of people with its differing forms. There is haiga, tanka, renga, choka and many other forms. Traditional haiku has a kigo, or a reference to the seasons. There is Hawaiian haiku, even insect haiku. Nature photographers in particular are drawn to haiku to capture singular moments.
Not by giving answers to riddles, but rather by opening doors of consciousness, haiku invites us to observe the immediate moment with our full attention. This is in harmony with the essence of contemplative photography.
At the end of this article, I'll describe 6 steps to creating a photo haiku in Photoshop®.
First, we'll see that haiku is about nature, oneness, and has a fascinating history.
Haiku Past: a wordless poem
Traditionally, haiku poets wrote about nature and our oneness with its winds, seas and sensations. Sometimes serious, often comic – haiku began with scholars in China, and spread widely in Japan. Visually, it was usually a single vertical line of text on the page. It did not rhyme. The theme often referenced a season of the year.
Haiku went far beyond scholarly writing. Long called the “wordless poem,” haiku was a way of life, often linked to spiritual practice. Poets and common folk alike wrote haiku to praise nature, and to open the mind and heart. Matsuo Basho, the best known haiku poet, was a Japanese samurai who devoted his spiritual life to writing masterful haiku poetry. My own haiku is but a poor, pale shadow of the master.
Haiku Present : wit and human nature
Since Basho’s time (1644-1694), Western writers have more recently altered haiku’s structure and content. Jack Kerouac wrote haiku. Richard Wright, African-American author of Native Son, also wrote a series of haiku.
Not all haiku is serious, and today it may not follow a set number of syllables. As an example of modern haiku, George Swede's haiku sparkles with wit:
Thick fog lifts
unfortunately, I am where
I thought I was
Your Haiku Photograph
How do you make a haiku photograph? Begin by observing a passing moment, like a lightning bolt or a moment of human relations. You can also begin with a memory or association. Then make a camera image.
Think about what you perceived, heard, or sensed during your experience. Your short poem can be about what happened. It can capture what you imagined might have happened. Use simple language when writing your haiku. Let the words give your viewers a new point of view on your image. The best haiku photography does not give answers, it just opens a door. . .
A Soulful Poem
Some Western haiku translators may have misunderstood the Japanese meaning. For instance, in Japanese, " sound-symbol" was translated to mean "syllable" when Japanese haiku was translated to English. However, sound symbols are not equal to English syllables, and 10 to 14 English syllables, not 17, more closely matches the length of the haiku poem (Cor Van Den Heuvel, 1999).
Modern haiku can be one, two or three lines; what counts in understanding haiku photography is keen insight into a significant moment. Creating haiku photography means taking the viewer into the full import of an experience, not writing fancy poetry. Haiku should enter one's soul unobtrusively.
The Way We've Never Seen Before
One question to ask when writing haiku: "Does the poem let me see the photo in a way I’ve never seen it before?" Another inquiry to consider when making a haiku photo is "Can I sense a meaningful presence in this haiku photo moment?"
How to Create a Haiku Photograph in Photoshop: 6 Easy Steps
Step 1 START) Open your photograph using File > Open.
2) Add your text. Click IMAGE > Canvas Size. Change width to 300 pixels wide. If your picture was 800 pixels, make the width 1200 pixels.
3) Likewise, add 400 pixels to the height. Note that you can customize the canvas color by clicking Canvas extension color: drop-down menu at the bottom of the Canvas Size dialog box.
4) Click the Text Tool in Photoshop’s toolbox. Select your font style from the upper toolbar. Type in the text of your poem. If you want to move down a line, hit the "enter" key on your keyboard. Click Photoshop's check mark to commit your edits (the check mark is at the top of Photoshop's display, in the middle of the Options bar that runs horizontally across the top of the screen). To view your text layer, open the Layers palette by clicking WINDOW > Layers ( F7 ).
5) Position your text poem by using the move tool in the toolbox.
Step 6 FINISH) With your poem text and your picture on two separate layers, save your Photoshop file as a .PSD file so you can edit it later. For example, later on you might want to change the colors, or the poem and these changes are easy to do with Photoshop's non-destructive .psd files.
Haiku photography is a thriving art form in the information age. The rapid growth of digital imaging will support new forms of haiku with fresh possibilities. As a throng of young artists publish their diverse work on the web, haiku photography will continue to grow.
1. For excellent haiku with accompanying images, find Shoji and other poets at Haiku Poets Hut: haikupoetshut.com/haikuphotndx.html
2. Michael Rehling’s work is true to the spirit of haiku: http://www.haikuhut.com/Photo%20Haiku%20-%20Michael%20Rehling.htm
3. Enjoy the diverse art of Mark Brooks, Roderick Stewart and Ray Rasmussen at Rays Web: http://raysweb.net/fall-haiku/
4. Ron Rosenstock’s excellent large format black and white imagery is joined with Gabriel Rosenstock’s haiku at: http://www.worldhaikureview.org/3-2/rosenstock-photohaiku/pages/01.html.