Wabi Sabi: The Spiral of Life

Photographs by Deborah Barndt

Wabi Sabi is a Japanese way of being and seeing, honouring the beauty of all organic processes of birth, growth, decay, death and new life.

After my mother died in October 2012 at the age of 96, I found myself taking photos of the glorious decay of autumn and comparing them to images I’d taken of her aging body.

These photo constructions are part of my process of remembering, mourning, and celebrating her life, while grappling with my own mortality and my deepening understanding of death as part of life, and the life that emerges from death.

Indigenous and non-western philosophies like Buddhism, see our human bodies as part of nature. Okanagan teacher Jeannette Armstrong explains that “… the body is earth itself. Our flesh, blood, and bones are earth-body; in all cycles in which earth moves, so does our body.”

For Anna Halprin, 80-year-old dancer and performance artist, ”an aging body is beautiful in its own way…. Whenever I feel I need inspiration, I always return to nature. Maybe it has to do with rehearsing with my own returning to the earth, to my own death.”

Special thanks

To Dimitrije Martinovic, co-creator and Photoshop mentor, for his creative imagination, technical expertise, and endless patience.

To sisters Kathy Brownfield, Beth Ruthenburg and niece Laura Collins for three of the photos of our mother/grandmother.

To Mary Corkery, Min Sook Lee and John Murtaugh for viewing draft images and offering useful feedback.

To Joshua Barndt for helping me to imagine connections by playing with juxtapositions of images.

To Tobi Asmoucha for introducing me to the amazing world of photo papers and printers.

To John Murtaugh for creating the installation that shows how composting decaying nature feeds new plant growth.

To Sandra Godoy for giving me the opportunity to connect this exhibit with Seniors’ programming at the Parkdale Community Health Centre.

To Selam Teclu for bringing alive some of the ideas expressed visually through her performance and culinary skills.

Exhibit sites

The Wabi Sabi exhibit was on display twice in 2013:

May 2013 – Parkdale Community Health Centre (Contact Festival)

This exhibit was part of Toronto’s annual Contact Photography Festival, and included an installation produced with the Seniors’ Group at the Health Centre.

June 2013 – Four Villages Community Health Centre

During this showing, I invited members of the Seniors’ Group to share their own stories in response to the images. It was very moving…!

The exhibit is available for display in other centres, conferences, and workshops.