An intriguing Japanese concept called Ichigo Ichie has recently been revealed to me. It literally means “one time, one meeting”. A better translation may be “once in a lifetime”. An expanded translation, that appeals to me more, could be “What we are experiencing right now will never happen again. We must value each moment like a beautiful treasure. We must become moment hunters.”
This idea of becoming “moment hunters” is very powerful to me. This is one of the things I love about photography that is different from most other art forms. I can capture moments as they are happening. When I press the shutter on my camera, the entire world visible through the lens is recorded on the sensor. It does not have to be slowly drawn and/or painted. Have you noticed that most paintings are static? If not, the artist probably took a photograph and painted from it later.
This has been impressed more and more to me as I get older. There is no assurance of a tomorrow. Even if there is, the moment you see now probably will not exist. The light, the weather, the interaction taking place – these things will never repeat exactly, if at all.
So now, if I see something, I take the picture. It doesn’t matter as much if I am late to something or if I lose my place in traffic or if I even have to turn around and go back (something guys are supposed to never do).
Even when I am out driving or walking with friends I will stop and capture an image if I really like it. My real friends understand and others, well, hopefully they will be patient, but that is not my problem. The image is very important to me. I have learned that you can’t come back later and find it.
We’ve all experienced it
I am starting to learn. Too many times I have thought “that is really great; I will catch it next time”. Even if you get back in an hour, the light will be different; the clouds will have moved; something. Or if you note something interesting enough to return to, say next month or on another trip next year, it will be different. That very shapely tree is covered with leaves and is not as interesting. That great scene is now a housing development, never to be interesting again.
One of my heroes Jay Maisel tells a story from early in his career. In his book “It’s Not About the F-Stop” (I do not receive any compensation from this) he has this example. He was at the Tokyo Fish Market.
“I find a room with cakes of ice, light coming from below, cutting knives on top. This is great. I take a few shots, but I’m really supposed to be shooting something else, so I figure I’ll go back there later and really work it.
I get back a few years later. I’m looking forward to working on it, but it’s not there anymore. It’s been replaced with air conditioning.”
Based on this and other experiences he always tells his students “Never go back”.
Not a new concept
This idea of Ichigo Ichie comes from about the 16th century. It came out of tea ceremonies. The ideas migrated into Zen Buddhist philosophy and was expanded with their thoughts on transience.
It also appears in martial art training. The idea was that even in training you can’t just stop and do it over. In a life-and-death struggle you don’t get a “try again”.
And isn’t life such a life-and-death situation? Now is what we have. Use it.
Ichigo Ichie was even used as the subtitle to the 1994 release of Forest Gump in Japan. It seemed to reflect the events of that movie.
All we have is today
Great scenes don’t stick around. Everything changes all the time. If you like the image, stop and capture it. There is little chance you can find it again later. Now, you might find a better one by coming back to a location with better light or better weather. Landscape photographers try to do this all the time. But it will be a different scene. This one you see right now will never be the same.
Usually I focus these almost exclusively on art and photography. This concept is much broader.
It scares me now to think of all the transient things I miss if I’m are not disciplined about recognizing them. Your kids, for example. They are growing up every day. They are learning new things all the time. Are you spending the time to interact with them, to help them and shape them?
Or your mate? They are really the most important person in your life. I hope for your sake they will be with you the rest of your life. Are you conscious of your interactions? Do you always treat them with respect and love? Do you work to keep the romance going?
Or friends. Being with friends is special. When it happens, be fully there. Take advantage of the time. Treasure every encounter. This is one of the things life is really about.
Sorry to get so philosophical. Usually I try to stick strictly to art. This topic is very close to me and I believe it is important.
Oh, and the image at the top of this post? It is a good example. I was driving in a remote area, with my wife and best friend, as darkness approached on a blustery winter night. We were in a hurry, but I had the guts to stop anyway and take this. I’m glad I did!