Zen Pilgrimage of a Photo Thief

This exhibition runs Tuesday, September 14, 2004 through Wednesday, December 1, 2004

Zen Pilgramage

Zen Buddhists don't usually do pilgrimages, but then, not too many are photo thieves, either. In 1976, the photographer, a college student at the time, spent the American Bicentennial celebrations doing Zen meditation at Eiheiji (/ay-hay-jee/), the headquarters of the Sôtô (/so-to/) Sect of Zen. He returned to Japan in June of 2003, first to spend three weeks immersed in a Zen temple in Okayama prefecture, followed by a three-week journey around the country. He returned to many of the places he had visited in 1976, including Eiheiji. By no means do all of the images in this exhibition show Zen temples, but he stole them anyhow, with the hope that giving them to an audience they might reveal parts of Japan seen sometimes frequently, sometimes rarely, and never the same way.

William Johnston—author of Geisha, Harlot, Strangler, Star (Columbia University Press, 2004)—has lived in Japan many years. He returned last summer with a used Rolleiflex. These images are drawn from those he took before the Rolleiflex gave up the ghost. Johnston's exquisite reserve and precise eye take viewers past the cliché of Zen and wash them from one graceful glimpse to another. The effect mesmerizes, a cyclorama of Zen Japan in a Middletown gallery. Stolen moments of calm, moisture and shade, smooth rocks and toothy glades, mist and sunbeams, together close circles in the box of the Rollei negative.

Gallery Talk with Photographer:

William Johnston: Wednesday September 15, Noon