Rudyard Kipling wrote that East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet. Perhaps that may have been true in the 19th century when ethnic differences were more emphasized and pronounced. Today‚Äôs Global Village has narrower boundaries.
I was charmed by the beauty of the two little girls walking hand in hand, the one Japanese, the other American. They are friends, as children usually are and adults should be and often aren‚Äôt. The photographer is David Chapman of Kanagawa, Japan.
This photograph contains very strong subject matter (First NYIP Guideline). Peace is the theme and with it the accompanying friendship.
I am old enough to remember World War II. I remember the demonization of the Japanese, despicable depictions of them as bow legged, myopic, scarcely human. I remember the barbarism of Pearl Harbor, the Bataan Death March, and the prison camps in Malaysia and Borneo. Yet in the haste to condemn are we overlooking the fire raids on Tokyo and the annihilation of Hirsoshima and Nagasaki?
But here in this photograph are two children, not even born during the war and perhaps knowing nothing of the enmity that once existed between two great peoples. East and West have met, Kipling notwithstanding.
As you know, it is not enough to begin with such strong subject matter. The photographer must also find the means to focus attention on the subject (second NYIP Guideline) and must then simplify the picture (third Guideline), eliminating the obtrusive while preserving the essentials.
What techniques were used, how did the photographer focus attention on the subject?
There is a very effective use of selective focus, the deliberate act of throwing the background out of focus in order to isolate it from the more important foreground (the girls). Sometimes you don‚Äôt want to do that because the information in the background is clearly relevant to the foreground subject. But that is not he case here. The background has no special relationship to the foreground area.
Note the fact that the children‚Äôs faces are hidden. One might complain that we cannot know the girls without seeing their faces. That is true enough but if the faces are shown then some personality may be revealed. By not showing the faces. David Chapman has created symbolic icons that can readily stand for little girls everywhere at peace with one another.
The lighting, too, is another way to focus attention on the subjects. Frequently the light in Japan is soft and diffused, the result of a climate where rain is common, a characteristic of the northwestern rim of the Pacific. But the lighting also emphasizes the theme of Chapman‚Äôs photograph, peace, tranquility, and so forth.
Surely the opposites in the photograph have powerful meanings. Consider the Japanese girl vs the American one, the traditional kimono and the polka-dotted jumper, the pigtails and long hair of the one as compared to the more stylized Japanese style replete with decoration, the clog type of sandals and the canvas gym sneakers. Outwardly these items differ and help to make the girls different. But the philosopher-poet Eli Siegel, when writing about Aesthetic Realism, said: The world, art, and self explain each other, each is the aesthetic oneness of opposites. In applying the second NYIP Guideline (focusing attention on the subject) the inclusion of pairs of opposites thoroughly strengthens Chapman‚Äôs photograph. As different as traditional Japan and modern America may have once been (extreme opposites) the ethnic differences are not so evident today. The opposites are merging into one with all mankind perhaps reaping the benefits.
Simplicity of composition is the final point and the third NYIP Guideline ‚Äì two little girls, an unadorned background, the otherwise empty pavement, and that is it. David Chapman‚Äôs photograph is exemplary, I think.
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