Garry Gay: A New Vision of Photography and Haiku
Lewis Hine, an early twentieth century photographer, once said, “If I could tell the story in words, I wouldn’t need to lug around a camera,” (Quote Garden, 2009). However, some artists might find Hine’s statement distasteful. Photographer and contemporary haiku writer Garry Gay finds a common point between words and illustrations to form a synergy, where the whole accomplishes a greater outcome than the solitary elements would alone. Gay believes that combining the two arts is only a natural conclusion for both a photographer and haiku writer, as he finds many comparisons to both arts. “They both are in many ways a visual art. You’re in the moment, you’re an observer. They are both a way of seeing life around me…a sort of haiku vision,” Gay stated in an email interview on April 25, 2009.
Inspired by the early masters of haiku, Gay has been engulfed in haiku writing for over thirty years. In 1991, Gay was elected president of the Haiku Society of America. He is also the inventor of the poetic form known as the “rengay“, or a linked haiku usually written with others through collaborative writing that rotates back and forth (Brooks Books, 1999). Gay was also co-founder and first president of the Haiku Poets of Northern California. Today, Gay still continues to be published internationally.
Haiku is not the only thing keeping Gay busy though. As a professional photographer living in California, Gay has been producing photos for more than forty years. He is a member of Advertising Photographers of America, Film Arts Foundation, Friends of Photography, Artrails, and the Cultural Arts Council of Sonoma County (Brooks Books, 1999). Most of his work is used by graphic designers or by advertising agents and is also seen in the commercial market for products like greeting cards, posters, and etc. At other times, his photography is paired with his award-winning haiku. “Both art forms are used to express oneself and for communication. They both offer a way to explore the world…so much time is devoted to them. There is much reward with both of these art forms once someone has become very proficient at using them,” (Gay).
Although Gay does combine the arts together at times, they are still two separate arts to him. His photography is his profession and his haiku is something he is driven to write. “While I do combine them both together now and then, they are two different crafts that I practice daily. In reality I live and breathe photography and haiku,” (Gay). However, his passions can still be seen through comparison.
Published by Brooks Books, Gay’s online book “The Long Way Home,” incorporates both haiku and photography at an astonishing level. With more than sixty haiku and images, Gay’s readers journey through each page while receiving a single haiku and an extraordinary photo along with the poem. Each haiku and image completes the other, while leaving the readers hungry for more. Take for instance one of his haiku from “The Long Way Home,”
in the water
in the rain
(Gay, TLWH, 13)
Gay uses both his haiku and photo image as communication to explore. Not only does Gay want readers to imagine the image the haiku radiates, but he also wants the readers to visualize the image through photography. By using both poetry and photography, Gay ensures his readers on every level. The reader is not contaminated with confusion or disarray, but rather organization and emotion. The lines “in the water/in the rain” give the haiku importance as it shows the reader that water and rain are two separate things through repetition. This idea of repetition is also important for the comparison of the two arts. In the haiku, the water and the rain are two separate things likewise are the haiku and photo. Together, the two lines in the haiku make up the first line, the “yellow lily” as does the haiku and photo make up the two arts as a whole. Not only is the haiku short, simple, and to the point, but so is the photo as it gives off a clear and simple image of what is being talked about.
Gay also tries to incorporate his own kind of style through his haiku, a “briefness or honest simplicity.” This idea of honest simplicity is seen through another haiku from his online book,
The trail forks…
taking the one
(Gay, TLWH, 2)
This haiku shows excellence in the true reality found throughout. Most readers will agree that beauty or attractiveness has a lot to do with various choices in life. Rather than taking a trail of something absent of beauty, the reader would rather take a trail of something magnificent to view or something dripping with beauty from the roots. The field of flowers photo once again allows the reader to see a clearer perspective of the haiku, becoming almost impossible to misinterpret.
Another haiku taken from his online book also shows a briefness quality.
fishermen tell stories
waiting for the tide
(Gay, TLWH, 20)
The haiku incorporates a sense of time but still allows a to-the-point experience. Although it is brief and can be a realistic haiku, the poem still captures the attention of the reader, allowing own personal experiences and memories to be captured while still allowing the reader to take the haiku where he or she feels it needs to go.
An important part of writing haiku to Gay is not so much trying to express something, but rather trying to show something or “share an experience,” with the readers. Through one of his collaborative rengay pieces, “Snapshot,” Gay does just this.
leaving my shadow
on the darkroom floor
from the bottom of the tray
your smile slowly develops
pulling me closer
in front of the camera . . .
on the bulletin board
a roll of negatives . . .
the brightness of your dark eyes
I join you
in the photograph
(Gay, TLWH, 66)
This rengay does an excellent job of showing and sharing an experience with the reader. The rengay is personal for Gay because of his love for photography and snapshots, but is not only experienced by him. Any reader can relate to the experience of snapshots and sharing a photograph with another. Gay does not simply just state the rengay in a way that is for him only, but instead shows the experience with the reader through words and images, while sharing a typical experience that one may encounter. From the poem, Gay is able to evoke emotions of the reader through descriptive words and experiences, making it more open to others and a way of seeing life from another perspective.
Gay once said his days often unfold like a treasure hunt. “The prize is to convey to an unknown audience the deeper sense of oneself. Most of the feelings that quality haiku bring forth awaken an old emotion or bring a burst of instant enlightenment from a deep well of memories. Childhood, friendships, separations, first experiences, roads traveled in a life lived fully. The gift of haiku is to recall a special feeling,” (Brooks Books, 1999). In this haiku Gay recalls an old memory of family and childhood while bringing a new memory to it.
A light mist
we skip to the playground
my daughter and I
(Gay, TLWH, 10)
As already mentioned, Gay believes a good quality haiku must bring old emotions alive again. This haiku does this by recalling a past experience with a family member. Not only is the daughter and father remembered, but also the setting and the season. With all of these characteristics combined along with a beautiful snapshot photo, the old memory is relived again by countless readers with each their own a new vision and experience.
An artist must be careful when combining the art of haiku with the art of photography. According to Gay, the photo should not take away from the haiku but still allow the photo to carry the reader’s experience and memories. “Both the haiku and the photograph must let you enjoy the moment of crossing a threshold,” (Brooks Books, 1999).
what a haiku is
(Gay, TLWH, 57)
The combination of the photo and haiku in this example does exactly what Gay anticipates. The photo does not take away from the haiku at any level, but only adds to the brilliance captured within the haiku. Instead of a photo of a large family or picnic, Gay matched the haiku with a painted totem pole. Perhaps to some readers, the picture of the painted totem pole makes the reader imagine summer time and family reunions. If Gay were to have used a photograph of a big family or picnic, the memory would have been overdone and simplified, boring the reader.
Another haiku of Gay’s also illustrates his point on combining the two arts.
The worn red bench
at the end of the orchard . . .
(Gay, TLWH, 63)
Without one another, both the haiku and photo are excellent. However, when combining the two arts, the outcome is superb. The haiku evokes the senses and emotions while the photo does the same. From both the haiku and the photo, the reader can almost smell the apple scent as well as taste the apple from past memories that have been awakened.
When compared to other haiku writers, Gay has one trait that helps put him at the top: clarity. Take for instance the work of George Swede compared to the work of Gay in The Haiku Anthology edited by Cor Van Den Heuvel:
In the town dump
I find a still-beating
(George Swede, THA, 212)
in comparison to
he opens one eye
at the tossed stick
(Gay, THA, 49)
Both haiku are great but Gay’s is much clearer as it paints a picture for the reader. Swede’s haiku might confuse the reader by not illustrating a clearer picture or experience. Gay’s haiku is more widely experienced with readers while bringing to life or recalling old memories. Not many readers would be able to relate to Swede’s haiku on a personal experience level. Also, most readers will prefer a three-lined haiku to a one-lined haiku. When reading a three-line haiku, the reader is more comfortable and knows when to pause before the next line. With a one-lined haiku, this is not always the case. The line seems like an ordinary sentence and is at times, not read like a haiku should be read. It becomes rushed, jumbled, and unclear.
By combining both haiku and photography, Gay has experienced a great deal of creative joy in the process as well as great satisfaction. Throughout the decades, Gay has made a successful and enlightening life for himself and his family through the arts of haiku writing and photography.
His photography is more about capturing an idea or a concept while his haiku often capture a meaningful nature experience and at its best is carefully crafted using the seasons as a reference and juxtaposition as the springboard to that “ah” moment of complete awareness. However, both arts compliment the other art in some terms according to Gay‘s personal experience.
“Often where one art form ends the other begins. There is a dialogue between the two forms. Both have a visual quality, spoken in two different languages. Poetic vision would best describe the fusion of the two art forms. To see and hear the heartbeat of the natural world. To capture the spontaneity of a moment of insightfulness. To evoke a subtle yet elusive sense of discovery,” (Brooks Books, 1999). In reality he lives and breathes photography and haiku. “There is no way to describe the enjoyment I get from them,” (Gay). A haiku must include a memory trigger, an experience, a voice, and a craving for more. A photograph must include the same. Together, both of these arts combine to make one: Garry Gay.
Gay, Garry. “Personal Interview.” 25 Apr. 2009.
Quote Garden. 26 Dec. 2007. Quote Garden. 24 April 2009 <www.quotegarden.com/photography.html>
The Long Way Home. 1999. Brooks Books. 26 April 2009 <http://www.brooksbookshaiku.com/ggayweb/ggayindex.html>
Van Den Heuvel, Cor, ed. The Haiku Anthology. 3rd ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1999.