In 17th Century Japan there arose a new and lively cultural style. This first "popular culture" flourished not among the ruling elite, but among the merchants and artisans of the major cities--Kyoto, Edo and Osaka, and especially in the pleasure or entertainment quarters of these cities. This culture came to be termed ukiyo, or "the floating world", a term "commonly taken to mean a world that was pleasurable precisely because it was constantly changing, exciting and up-to-date". It also came to carry Buddhist connotations of the impermanent and ephemeral. This culture was epitomized by elaborately costumed courtesans, actors, singers, dancers, and athletes, among whom mingled profligate sons of rich merchants and dissolute samurai. It was a world free of the usual restrictions of social rank. From this culture came an art form of mass-produced woodblock prints. First used as illustrations in works of fiction popular among the newly-literate middle classes, the prints soon developed an independent existence as ukiyo-e, "pictures of the floating world." These were very much akin to the poster and calendar prints today. Their subjects included beautiful women wearing the latest fashions, leading actors, dancers and sumo athletes, and scenes of the city life. Over time, landscapes and genre scenes also became popular subjects. These prints, along with other Japanese art forms, first became widely available in Europe once Japan ended its long period of isolationism and opened its ports to trade in the early 19th Century. The ukiyo-e prints in particular made a strong impression on the emerging field of graphic design, and were enthusiastically collected by artists such as Manet and van Gogh. Japanese visual design principles also had a strong influence on early 20th Century American photography, especially among the members of Stieglitz's Photo-Secession group. In taking the name "Floating World Images" I am acknowledging the influence of this genre of art history on my own work, and on the work of earlier generations of photographers. My chosen subjects--dancers, performers, even landscapes-- are also of the ephemeral, "floating world," the capturing of that which is changeable and impermanent. Floating World Images 5876 Willow Ridge RD Pinson, AL 35126-3535 rstewart@floatingworldimages.com on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Floating-World-Images-Photography/334323130066

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