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The Orient

CheongsamMy first encounter with a representative of an Eastern culture was through Tomoko Akishino, a Kyoto kid studying in Minnesota. From a few details that she told me grew persisting interest in Japan in particular and East and South-East Asia in general.
Next was The Lady, Patsa Hungspreugs. Though the particular persona had taken quick (and mostly justifiable) dislike to my company, my interest in Asia got extended to interest in individuals as well.
Of course, since Patsa grew up in the United States and thus was not unlike the locals in behaviour, the interest must have been fueled mostly by her appearance. Much as a veil leads men to idealize the face behind it, so did her policy of staying aloof lead me to idealizing the subject of my initial curiosity.
I had read enough in print and on soc.culture.korean/thai/japan/china/etc. to begin wondering if I really did like Eastern system of values. I did, still, like to photograph Eastern faces.
Serious Shy Ji-young in white
Kami-chanA closer look at graphic depictions of the East focused my attention on three categories: still life, people and landscape. In still life I found styles more to my liking than either paintings or woodblock prints. The landscapes -- from Hokusai to pale, delicate hues of 1920s prints had provided much inspiration.
Illustrations of people I found lacking in feeling, if technically intersting. Ukiyo-e turned out to be far less elegant at closer look. And looking at movie stills showed that my once-favorite Gong Li (Songlian in Raise The Red Lantern, a pretty, if inaccurate, adaptation of "Wives and Concubines") owes her fame to her make-up artist. Yoko Shimada (Toda Mariko in Shogun, an equally loose adaptation of a book that had little historical veracity to start with) must have been a great actress, as her appearance in movie stills paled before her acting.
Startled Looking back at photographs I took, it appears that what looked to me like "quiet and solemn dignity" were in fact symptoms of being too stoned or tired to care. My current paragons of beautiful womanhood are Imogen Cunningham and Calamity Jane...preferably in the same person.

Learning more about East Asia had eventually convinced me that what I first mistook for culture was merely a well-decorated herd instinct. Besides, if I ever want to visit a place with lots of Asian faces and an utterly nasty political situation, People's Republic of Kalifornia is much closer.

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