Jürgen Gad has been involved with the aesthetics of Zen for the past twenty years. After reading Kire – beauty in Japan by the Japanese philosopher Ryōsuke Ōhashi, the photographer came up with the idea for his latest project: to bring together nature, poetry and Japanese aesthetics.

What do nature, and blossoms in particular, mean to you? What do they represent?
Nature is the great master and teacher for me as a natural scientist. But nature is also an inexhaustible source of inspiration, when you approach it aesthetically. The purely selective look at nature that a natural scientist must adopt, inevitably leads to spiritual impoverishment, as only the intellect comes into play. However, if you practice both together, you experience nature, and your own self, as a whole. The blossom represents the whole of nature, including humanity because, as the Zen saying goes: the part does not exist without the whole, the whole does not exist without the part. So the whole exists in the part and vice versa.

Where did you find the blossoms, and what criteria did you use to select them?
The flowers came from my own garden. Pressing them produces blossoms with an appearance that can’t be predicted with precision, as the compression of the flower – which happens during the process – can’t be controlled in a precise manner. Consequently, the selection for the actual photograph could only be made after the pressing process was finished, and I could see what the blossom looked like.

How did the process of taking the photographs actually unfold?
The flowers were laid out on a light table and photographed with a combination of transmitted and reflected light. The camera was then horizontally positions on the tripod. The selection of picture segments was achieved with the help of the rear display. The sharpness was set with the autofocus and, before actually pressing the shutter, the lead time was set at twelve seconds. Checking the histogram in conjunction with the automatic timer gave me the correct exposure time. The pictures were taken in so-called pixel shift mode (multi shot).

How was your experience with the Leica SL2?
For me, a camera isn’t just a tool but also an aesthetic object. I find the SL2’s minimalistic approach captivating and it reminds me of the Bauhausian principle of form following function. The feel of the camera when I take it in my hands is also important. The size is just right – not too small, but also not large enough to be heavy. The electronic viewfinder (EVF) is also very positive, as it has a high resolution and offers a very clear impression of the picture. For the pictures presented here, it was important that the camera featured the pixel shift mode, the EVF and an electronic shutter.

How did you process the pictures?
As far as the sharpening algorithms are concerned, the respective raw converter is particularly challenged in this case, as the original photo has a relatively soft appearance. During my “experiments” with the pixel shift mode, I discovered that down-calculating the 96 megapixels to the native 24 increased the SL2-S’s image quality considerably. In the screen’s 100 percent mode, you see pictures that you couldn’t imagine being any better. If you print them on your home printer, you’ll get photos that have a three-dimensional appearance. The reason for this is the very differentiated reproduction of the finest details.

How important were the pictures’ colours and structure for you?
I spent a lot of time considering how to present the pressed flowers. Should I pretty them up, and increase the intensity of the colour artificially? In the end, that makes no sense, as the following can happen: in nature photography exhibitions you often see that the colour hues are too strong, for example. Then, when you see the real thing, the impression is often one of disappointment, because they don’t fulfil the expectations created by the photos. With the Kire photos, I aimed to make them as close as possible to the originals, especially because the original colour is reduced through the pressing process.

What did you discover while photographing the flowers?
While I was taking the pictures, I noticed the delicacy of the pressed flowers, which, when lit from underneath, is well suited for highlighting the internal structure, that wouldn’t otherwise be seen in bare incident light.

What did you want your pictures to convey beyond the beauty of the flowers?
The word kire in the title for the flower photos means something like cutting, separating. I took this literally for the Kire series. In Zen aesthetics, this artistic technique is used to present the object, in this case of flowers, not as a mere image, but to also point to its relational opposite. From that perspective, death is not the irreconcilable opposite of life, but life and death are mutually dependent.

Born in 1954, Jürgen Gad has been taking photographs since he was a child. He has degrees in Natural Sciences, having studied Geology, Palaeontology and Zoology, and has worked professionally as a geologist and palaeontologist. Today he is retired and pursues his passion for photography. He is fascinated by Zen aesthetics and has his own website where he publishes numerous photographs.

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