A KIND OF ME LAN CHOLY
Pictures that have an element of mystery and uncertainty can also leave the strongest lingering impression
Because mood in imagery is often the result of an underlying sensation, some of those that leave the longestlasting impression are among the most difficult to pinpoint.
Here’s one from China (left) and another from Japan (right) that are hard to define even in those languages and cultures, let alone English, but that hover around a kind of shadowy melancholy. Called ‘you xuan’ in Chinese and ‘yugen’ in Japanese, it has been described as “the profound, remote and mysterious, those things which cannot easily be grasped or expressed in words”, and “like an autumn evening under a colourless expanse of silent sky. Somehow, as if for some reason we should be able to recall, tears well uncontrollably.” Heartfelt stuff, and very Asian, but fertile ground for photography. As another Japanese writer put it, “We find beauty not in the thing itself but in the patterns of shadows, the light and the darkness.” Visually, it works with shadows, darkness, the just visible, low-key obviously, and muted or no colours. Downbeat, maybe, but something new for most of us to explore with the camera.
Mist and muted colours help evoke a melancholy
mood in photographs
Desaturated colours, darkness, and reflected light give this shot the qualities known as ‘yugen’ in Japanese