Image: Masahito Ono  January 8, 2015 at 9:20 A.M. local time (Bornheim, Germany)

Image: Masahito Ono January 8, 2015 at 9:20 A.M. local time (Bornheim, Germany)

What is white? What is black? I recently came across a poem called A PERSONAL VIEW OF GRAY, by a Japanese poet and translator, Shuntaro Tanikawa and it made me think about many things. Black and White is something many photographers and many artists have talked about and still talk about today but I found Tanikawa’s observation of the two things especially interesting. (I used the word “thing” because I am not certain any more if it is appropriate to call them a “color”.)

Tanikawa says there has been no true white nor true black and everything is in-between. Then I started to think that perhaps the true black and the true white exist only outside of time and space. Having said that, I don’t know what could exist outside of time and space… Nothingness? Non-existence? Concept (could concept exist outside of time and space)? What could that be? I cannot stop being curious.


However white a white may be, it never is a true white. In a white without a single bit of cloudiness, invisibly miniscule black is lurking, and that is always its constitution itself. A white does not regard a black with hostility, but rather it is understood to contain a black, because a white by its nature fosters black. At the very moment of coming into existence, a white is already beginning to move toward a black.
But in its long process toward a black, however many gradations of gray it passes through, a white does not cease to be white until the very moment it is totally black. Even when it is infiltrated by what are not thought to be attributes of white such as, for example, shadows, dullness, or absorption of light, a white is gleaming behind a mask of gray. A white dies in a flash. In that instant a white disperses, leaving no traces, and a total black rises up. But —
However black a black may be, it never is a true black. In a black without a single speck of gleam, an invisibly miniscule white is lurking like a genome, and that is black’s constitution itself. At the very moment of coming into existence, a black is already beginning to move toward a white . . .
normal situation with two columns

Translation: 2011, Takako Lento
From: the art of being ALONE
Publisher: Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, 2011

I think the readers can have many different interpretations about this poem. I was interested in it in two different ways, one is to think about black and white as color, and second, to think about it as a metaphor for life. Some say, life is temporal. Life begins and ends. Perhaps what we are now, our living lives, our existances are variations of “gray” - in-between Black and White. But without those grays, there is no future and there had been no past. Perhaps, we are all serving function as a liaison between the past and future. In that sense, although it's temporal, I think our lives are all very important.

The photo is what I photographed with my iPhone last winter in Germany. The number of grays in this image is limited to a countable number while grays are infinite.