They plunge to the bottom of the frozen sea, holding their breath, blinded by the murky abyss, searching not only for pearls, octopi or abalone, but also for freedom.
What would happen if their line were to break? Would the men comfortably sitting above in their boats, gleefully singing songs, try to save them? It doesn’t matter. The Japanese Ama defy the ridged confines of gender expectations because they are driven by a unified sense of purpose – to live free.
For the Ama or “women of the sea”, their faith is not in men but in nature. After all, the sea itself is an intoxicating female entity. Its creatures are the Ama’s allies. Their destinies are woven together like a fluid tapestry.
As the divers rise back to the surface and slowly exhale, the bay rings with the whistling echoes of their gentle gasp, and with it, reverberations of strength, autonomy, courage, stamina, and beauty.
The Ama are one of the most interesting elements of Japanese society. They are the female divers who, since about the year 750, have been diving for pearls, abalone, octopi, and lobsters, as well as harvesting seaweed along the coastline of Japan.
There are many fables of the Ama, including the story of Princess Tamatori, depicted in a Japanese block print from 1814 titled The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife, by Hokusai. It is an example of Japanese erotic art called Shunga, popularized during the Edo Period. The divers were often represented as erotic, simply because in Japanese culture the sea is seen as a female entity.
It is believed that the print depicts the story of Princess Tamatori, a figure highly popularized during the Edo period. The princess was a modest shell diver or Ama, who was searching for a pearl stolen from her husband’s family, the Fujiwara Clan, by Ryujin, the dragon god of the sea. Vowing to find the jewel Tamatori dives down to Ryujin’s underwater palace and is pursued by the god and his army of sea creatures, including octopi. When she finds the pearl, she cuts open her own breast and places the jewel inside; allowing her to swim faster in her escape. After reaching the surface the wound proves fatal, and in her death she is forever viewed a heroine.
The Ama were and still are, women who sought independence and community. There are many Ama who continue to dive passed the age of 90. It is one of the few professions dominated by woman and where there were no restrictions on their freedom.
Men would occasionally dive, but it was thought a better job for women, as it was believed that women had an additional layer of fat to keep them warm in the frigid waters. The original Ama would dive nude wearing just a loincloth and a protective scarf on their head. Streamlining their bodies in this way allowed them to swim faster and it was easier to warm up without wet clothing clinging to their skin.
An experienced Ama diver could dive as deep as 30 meters and hold her breath for up to two minutes at a time. These courageous women would dive from rocks, the shoreline and boats, with rope strung around their waists, and men would wait in the boats above to pull them back to the surface.
The whistling noise that they emit when resurfacing is called “Isobue”, or “ocean whistle,” which helps regulate their breathing. At one time, their whistling echoes would fill the bays of Japan. The entire free-diving process allows Ama to develop an extremely large lung capacity — a characteristic that many then pass on to their children.
In the 11th Century a noblewomen, Sei Shonagon, wrote The Pillow Book, a collection of her observations. She had encountered the Ama during her travels: “ One wonders what would happen to them if the cord round their waist was to break.” She goes on, “the men sit comfortably in their boats, heartily singing songs…they do not show the slightest concern about the risks the woman is taking”.
Even though socially the Ama’s labor was certainly less valued than that of men, they were unique among the female population. During a time when women were considered the subjects of men, a woman that could earn her own living, and also dictate the migration of her entire family, was unequivocally liberated. Their positions in society existed on almost a surreal plain.
The Ama are inspirational to me, as an artist and a woman, for many reasons, but foremost because what they did was just what they had to do, regardless of risk or reward. Even more remarkable to me is how they did it; breaking traditional rules within the confines of an existing system and still preserving their individual authenticity along with the connection to their culture.
My series, Whistling Echoes, explores the mythology of these women. Through the use of metaphor and symbolism, my visual interpretation explores the relationship that these women had to the sea and it’s creatures and how it not only shaped their destiny but also allowed them to live free.
Donna Garcia is a Fine Art Photographer from the United States.
To see more work and get more information on the artist please have a look at her Website or Instagram.
Changing Beauty – The Changing Face of Beauty
© Caroline de Bertodano
For centuries beauty was represented by natural beauties. Salome, Guinevere and Nefertiti to name but a few. Later beauty was portrayed in artworks such as Botticelli’s Spring, Rossetti’s Other Woman, da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and many Impressionist works. All evocative of something more than appearance. The Greek male nude sculptures and the female nude deities of Eastern Ishtar to the later Western art such as Donatello’s “David”, Titian’s “Venus of Urbino”, celebrated the natural human body. All to stir the mind as well as the sensual passions. Very recent depictions of beauty in art are dormant and beg the question as to why? A backlash to society’s ‘meat market’ and physical fabrications?
© Caroline de Bertodano
Through the ages, the size and shape of beauty have come and gone but natural was ever present. Different body types and features went in and out of fashion aided by the armoury of clothes and makeup but ‘natural’ was the foundation. People simply got on and appreciated more what they had been born with. In recent times, celebrity has replaced almost everything and as the avarice consumers we have become, we follow like sheep.
© Caroline de Bertodano
The reality of beauty, either male or female, is that almost every person is not happy in their own skin and has a list of what they feel disdain for about themselves, if not pure self-loathing by many women. An agenda of what they would change if they had the money. Massively increased depression & eating disorder numbers have the psychiatrists rewriting the psychology books. If we add ageing to the equation, what was ’50 is the new 30’ and now ’50 is the new 70′ based on looks alone. Media role models advocate nothing but shallow appearance, they negate the actual being, of being human, born natural and undoubtedly will die as bare to living as death intends. Time will always transcend the superficial.
Every age has issues of imperfection but never before to such extremes and even the 20 somethings have joined the mass hysteria in the quest for perfection and elusive eternal youth, where beauty is considered to reside. Exaggerated ideas of imperfection and the ‘fixing myself’ phrase is often heard. With the explosion of social media and its consequential hunting grounds, the idea of perfection is now so media influenced by pretense, false impressions of image, persona and of course the eternal super skinny body form…. no surprise there! Many men are taken in by these falsehoods. But in this age of ’swipe right’, they just move on to the next idea on their perfection list, wondering why they cannot find true and lasting love. Women have become competitive instead of supportive, putting good images of themselves to annoy other women or for attention that they lack in reality.
© Caroline de Bertodano
“I’d like to say that I would be happier in my natural skin but given the opportunity, I would enhance myself. It would seem silly not to. When we live in a world where celebrities and superstars are always looking amazing and we are exposed to the ideal woman and figure all the time, why wouldn’t you want to keep up? There seems to be a much higher standard of beauty… not a natural beauty but a beauty that can be made through cosmetic surgery. You only need to look at the ‘IT’ girls of now and look at a ‘before and after photo’ to realise they are doing it. It eventually just comes down to money. Money can buy physical beauty essentially and if I had the money I would be lying if I said I wouldn’t make changes to myself. Every girl has something they hate about themselves or feels self-conscious about and if it somewhat bothers you, of course, you are going to want to change that. It is not like there are any female role models advocating natural of ‘inner’ beauty but quite the opposite really; young girls are bombarded and almost brainwashed by social media about what is a normal young girl should or does actually look like”
Eva 21 years.
© Caroline de Bertodano
There is a chasm of difference between plastic and cosmetic surgery.
Plastic surgery is ‘reconstructive’ for medical reasons and includes, burns, limb loss, birth defects, trauma and disease and is vital, both externally & internally life-saving.
Cosmetic surgery is elective, ‘a choice’ by an individual to enhance appearance only.
© Caroline de Bertodano
With endless procedures, media & social influence, the idea of beauty means many are starting to look alike. Some so alien from their original self they become modern day monsters as procedures ‘fall’ and they lack the money to redo them. Expressiveness and uniqueness are being lost. The expressiveness of a child’s face in laughter, the look of love, is the beauty & emotion within that is expressed externally.
© Caroline de Bertodano
However, in some adults, they can no longer show emotion on over engineered faces, which in turn affects the emotional communication in relationships. First impressions aside, if we are all impressed by certain looks alone, the character, mind and soul; the internal self, go unconsidered and disappointment and failed relationships surely follow. Is Audrey Hepburn, one of the iconic beauty’s of our time, now ‘imperfect’? Her beauty came from what was inside as well as outside and many talk of her internal light.
© Caroline de Bertodano
The greatest beauty is the true natural beauty requiring three vital ingredients. Looks, mind and soul. Ever fallen in love with someone you least expected to and been surprised because they are not your ‘normal type’ but because of ‘who’ they are, not just what they looked like? Imperfections pale into insignificance on realizing emotional depth, mindful heights and the confidence they generate. True beauty is the combination and what artists for centuries before us tried to depict.
© Caroline de Bertodano
I would rather see the truth in someone’s eyes and the micro expressions that connect to the soul’s windows than an empty one-dimensional being that simply ‘looks good’. Beauty will always change but not at its core. My Mother used to say, ‘feed the brain and soul as well as the body’ and true beauty is those three things that make up the internal natural light, ‘the natural beauty’ and the only thing that will sustain relationships and transcend the chattels of time.
© Caroline de Bertodano
© Caroline de Bertodano
© Caroline de Bertodano 2017
Rainy day in Saint-Malo, Brittany, French West Coast. Cloudy sky. Sea spray. Soft and salty droplets carried by the wind. Walk by the sea on a rainy day and smell the perfume of the sea. The Ocean breeze.
Sometimes umbrellas are open. Dark or light spots sprinkled in a seascape with grey tones. The black and white come alive; the texture arises and catches the eye. Slowly. The umbrellas swing, quietly, to the rhythm of wandering walkers.
Stormy weather. Sometimes the weather is less clement, the sky changes, the wind rises, dark clouds are running in the sky, walkers hurry to shelter from the rain that arrives, from the wave that splashes, from the sprays that sting. With the high and low tides, the weather changes quickly by the sea, the sun comes back, it illuminates the landscape and the walkers, it warms the colors, it dries everything, and the umbrellas close again immediately.
My umbrella walkers are often alone. Contemplative. Lost in their thoughts. Looking towards the horizon. Immobile or in motion, anchored in a marine landscape that offers every day a new way of looking at it, even in rainy weather. Whether on the beach, in the cobbled streets, on the Sillon, the floor offers a different light to photography. Black and white act as a poetic revealer. It reinforces the effect of loneliness, accentuates the melancholic or meditative atmosphere, tells an unfinished story, a story to be written.
Go out and take pictures on a rainy day. Walk with the rain, or against it, feel the wind, the raindrops, the spray on your face. Observe the sky and the surrounding landscape, slow down and feel.
A walk through the rain and maybe a photo at the end of the road. This is the path that I follow on Instagram with no specific purpose. At random. Black and white photographic peregrinations written with commas and dots. To be continued…
I warmly thank Grryo for letting me share some of my Brittany here with you. Thank you for this beautiful lighting. Let the beautiful part of photography, writing, creation, documentary, art, a visual aside that opens the eyes and heart, congratulations to them. We are Grryo.
Tiphaine, @tiphdiadel, in real life, works in publishing ; on Instagram, walks with a smartphone ; founder of @bnw_bretagne : a photograph and a story, another look on Brittany.
Embruns. Balade en bord de mer, chapitre 2.
Un jour de pluie pluie à Saint-Malo. Ciel chargé. Embruns marins. Gouttelettes douces et salées portées par le vent. Se balader en bord de mer, un jour de pluie et sentir le mélange des fragrances marines. Air marin. Parfois les parapluies sont ouverts. Taches sombres ou claires parsemées dans un paysage marin aux tons gris et délavés. Le noir et blanc s’anime alors, la texture surgit et accroche le regard. En douceur. Les parapluies se balancent, tranquillement, au rythme de la marche des promeneurs.
Temps orageux. Parfois, le temps est moins clément, le ciel change, le vent se lève, des nuages larges et sombres courent dans le ciel, les promeneurs se hâtent alors pour se mettre à l’abri du grain qui arrive, de la vague qui éclabousse, des embruns qui piquent soudain. Avec la marée, la météo change vite en bord de mer, le soleil revient, il illumine les paysages et les promeneurs, il réchauffe les couleurs, il sèche tout alentour, et les parapluies se referment aussitôt.
Mes promeneurs au parapluie sont souvent seuls. Contemplatifs. Perdus dans leurs pensées. Le regard tourné vers l’horizon. Immobiles ou en mouvement, ancrés dans un paysage marin qui offre chaque jour une nouvelle façon de le regarder même par temps de pluie. Que cela soit sur la plage, dans les rues pavées, sur le Sillon, la texture du sol offre un éclairage différent à la photographie. Le noir et blanc agit comme un révélateur poétique. Il renforce l’effet de solitude, accentue l’ambiance mélancolique ou méditative, raconte une histoire inachevée, une histoire à écrire.
Sortir et photographier par un jour de pluie, en bord de mer. Marcher avec la pluie, contre la pluie, au gré de la pluie, c’est sentir le vent, les gouttes fraîches, les embruns sur le visage. Observer le ciel et le paysage alentour, ralentir le ryhtme, sentir.
Une promenade et peut-être au bout du chemin une photo. C’est le sentier que je suis sans but précis. Au hasard. Des pérégrinations photographiques en noir et blanc écrites avec des virgules et des points de suspension. À suivre…
Un immense merci à toute l’équipe de Grryo de m’avoir accueillie une nouvelle fois. Laisser la part belle à la photographie, à l’écrit, à la création, au documentaire, à l’art, une parenthèse visuelle qui ouvre le regard et le cœur, bravo Grryo.
Tiphaine, @tiphdiadel, dans la vie, travaille dans l’édition ; sur Instagram, jse promène avec un smartphone, a créé @bnw_bretagne : une photographie et une histoire, un autre regard sur la Bretagne.
While perusing my photographs from the last year, I was surprised to notice that I had started photographing women much more often than men. But not just women in general, it was women who seemed to be preoccupied or burdened by something, suspended in their own quiet space, within the milieu and movement of the city around them. How had I developed such a pattern photographically without even being aware of it? It was only in writing this story that I began to explore why I was drawn to these solitary female figures in which I saw subtle expressions of the same anxieties or unease that I had felt at varying stages throughout my life.
Of course anxiety or unease is not confined to women alone, and I have been attracted to photographing this quality in men as well. But the sheer volume of female subjects over the last few months suggested to me there was something more to it and I began to explore the tensions and dichotomies in my own life that had been sources of anxiety, but were also related specifically to being female:
I have felt empowered by being considered youthful, attractive and seductive, yet disempowered by being objectified and undervalued.
I have felt empowered by being independent and career focused, yet disempowered by being judged for being single or not having children.
I have felt empowered by finding love, getting married and settling down, yet disempowered by my single female friends who felt I could no longer relate to their struggles.
I have felt empowered by being older, wiser and more confident, but disempowered by the stresses of family and society’s changing view of me in the face of physical ageing.
I use the word empowerment because in all of these women I have photographed, I see an underlying strength, a steely persistence beneath the expressions of concernment or vulnerability which outweighed and outplayed any feeling of ‘disempowerment’.
I began thinking about Laura Mulvey’s infamous writings on the ‘male gaze’ in her essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. Mulvey argues that Hollywood cinema, for the most part, follows the patriarchal ideology of society and (without realizing it) places the audience into the perspective of a heterosexual man. “In a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female”, denying the woman her human identity and objectifying her. As a female street photographer in a primarily male dominated photographic medium, my focus on women then becomes twofold—I am inherently interested in women because I am one of them, but I am also able to challenge the philosophy of the male gaze by finding those women that project expressions and personalities that force the spectator to look deeper, beyond the surface— in other words, I want to photograph women because they have a story to tell, not because of their inherent ‘to-be-looked-at-ness’. To be sure, the story they have is one which can only be guessed at and one which will be intrinsically shaped by the viewer’s own worldview and experiences, as I demonstrated in the abovementioned examples.
Having observed and admired the work of other street photographers who find ‘scenes’ to photograph – whether it be two or three people interacting, or a person caught amidst diverse elements in the environment (for example a bus going by, a bird flying into the frame) – I persist with trying to capture the person, and only the person. In isolating the solitary figure, and highlighting their expression, the viewer is prompted to look within, rather than around, for the story.
In the same way I had begun to think differently about the female faces I had been photographing, I also began pondering my series of ‘faceless’ women. I had taken a number of these, never staged. I was fascinated by the way their expressiveness came through in their posture and that there was always a narrative to be found not in their gaze, but in what they gazed upon. It felt like all of them were searching for something, and looking cautiously but optimistically ahead, again suspended for a moment in their own contradictions. What were these contradictions or these struggles? What were they searching for? The goal of street photography is never to deliver answers but to raise questions.
Lauren Louise is a street photographer based in Chicago, IL. You can find her on : Website | Instagram
I remember, as a child, fumbling in the complete darkness of my bedroom. The clock having just struck my morning anxieties, and myself heading toward the window to summon the day into the room. Rolling up the night around the slats of the blind, the picture of the wakening day gradually unfolding before me. I usually paid little attention to it. A glimpse that made me feel both reassured that the world was still out there, and worried my school was too.
Some mornings had a different feel though. As soon as a glimmer of daylight crept into the dark, I already knew at its particular brightness that the day would hold different promises. It had snowed and perhaps it might keep snowing!
When I reminisce over the snow days of my childhood, I cannot single out or describe this or that particular day with its own distinct facts. Yet alive in me are a set of moments spreading from this time, grouped in my mind by a similar naïve joy, etched with such emotion that my memory has decided to gather them into one souvenir.
And I can see myself, pulling a chair by the window and watching the snow come down slowly over the wet plain, settling silently in the hollows, on the roofs, seizing the roads and the alleys, covering the ugliness brought on by the day. Then, having made everything even, everything level, it is forced to accept it must fall on itself. At this point, one’s attention is no longer drawn to anything and ceases to recognize. And now one can only see one’s own images projected on the white screen offered by the winter.
Or, I was outside. Snow had stopped and I was trying to identify parts of the scenery, my playground, my bicycle under a bump. And it was like attempting to read a book in a foreign language, familiar enough to follow the story line, yet not the details.
To this day, I prefer winter to any other season. Not only the snow, but the cold that enlivens or numbs. The fury of the wind when it blows the leaves off and gives them back to the earth, which later chews them and gobbles them up. I enjoy this harshness and this severity. People meet and get to the essential, because it is too cold to linger and tell more.
I enjoy the monotonous landscape. The nature when it depletes, gathers itself, and mourns. The ground that is brown then grey then white then dirty. The flight of the birds that is shorter and heavier. The way they suddenly flock into bands, ruffle the trees and the electrical cables. The ones that decide to remain lonely.
I enjoy watching the night as it awakens the day with the city lights turning on one by one like fireflies on a summer night. The shadows are longer, more present in the home. Our lives languish, it is a slower time, allowing us to look backward. As when walking in the snow, we have to stop and turn around in order to see our own tracks.
And last, I enjoy winter when it shies away, out of breath, and suddenly gives way to perpetual renewal, to the sweet illusion we call Spring.
Anne Closuit Eisenhart is @lesfifoles on Instagram
Ode à l’Hiver – Par Anne Closuit Eisenhart
Je me revois, enfant, avancer à tâtons dans le noir de ma chambre. Le réveil venait de sonner mes angoisses matinales et je me dirigeais vers la fenêtre pour convoquer l’aube dans la pièce. Tandis que j’enroulais la nuit autour des lamelles de mon store, se déroulait à mesure devant moi le tableau du jour qui s’éveillait. Je n’y prêtais d’habitude aucune attention particulière. Tout juste un regard qui me rassurait car le monde était toujours là, et qui m’inquiétait car mon école aussi.
Certains matins, il en allait différemment. A peine un rai de jour se glissait-il dans l’obscurité que je savais déjà, à l’éclat spécifique de la lumière, que la journée tiendrait d’autres promesses. Il avait neigé et peut-être neigeait-il encore…
Quand je me remémore les jours de neige de mon enfance, je ne peux bien sûr pas décrire telle ou telle journée précise avec ses faits bien à elle. Mais continue de vivre pourtant en moi un ensemble de moments s’étalant dans ce temps, regroupés dans mon esprit par une même joie naïve, inscrits avec suffisamment d’émotion pour que ma mémoire décidât de les réunir en un souvenir.
Et je peux me voir, tirer la chaise près de la fenêtre et regarder la neige descendre lentement sur la plaine humide, s’installer, silencieuse, dans les creux, sur les toits, s’emparer des routes et des chemins, recouvrir la laideur amenée par le jour. Puis, quand elle a rendu tout égal, quand elle a tout nivelé, se résoudre à tomber sur elle-même. Alors le regard n’est plus arrêté par rien et cesse de reconnaître. Et l’on ne fait plus que voir ses propres images intérieures se projeter sur l’écran blanc que nous offre l’hiver.
Ou encore, j’étais dehors, il avait cessé de neiger et j’essayais d’identifier le paysage, mon terrain de jeux, mon vélo sous une bosse. Et c’était comme tenter de lire un texte dans une langue étrangère suffisamment familière pour qu’on en comprenne la trame pas assez cependant pour qu’on en saisisse tous les détails.
Aujourd’hui encore, je préfère l’hiver à n’importe quelle autre saison. Pas seulement la neige, mais aussi le froid qui vivifie ou engourdit, la fureur du vent qui arrache les feuilles des arbres et les rend à la terre qui les mâche puis les engloutit. J’aime cette rudesse, cette âpreté. Les gens se croisent et se disent l’essentiel car il fait trop froid pour en rajouter.
J’aime le paysage monotone. La nature qui se dépouille et se recueille. La terre brune puis grise puis blanche puis sale. Le vol des oiseaux qui est plus lourd et plus court. Cette façon qu ‘ils ont soudainement de se mettre en bandes, d’hérisser les arbres, les fils électriques. Ceux qui décident de rester solitaires.
J’aime guetter la nuit quand elle réveille le jour, et regarder les lumières de la ville s’allumer une à une comme des lucioles un soir d’été. Les ombres sont plus longues, plus présentes dans la maison. Nos vies se traînent, c’est un temps plus lent, fait pour regarder en arrière.C’est comme quand l’on marche dans la neige, il faut s’arrêter et se retourner pour voir ses pas.
J’aime enfin l’hiver quand il se dérobe et, à bout de souffle, cède la place à l’éternel recommencement, à la douce illusion qu’est le printemps.
Anne Closuit Eisenhart est @lesfifoles sur Instagram