SWET Kansai Event Report: Photography and Flash Fiction Workshop

By Rebecca Otowa

I had been dreaming of putting together John Einarsen’s evocative photography and a writing workshop for some months, and on June 9, it came true. It was held in central Kyoto and seven people attended.

In addition to being the founding editor of the respected Kyoto Journal, John has published several books of his photographs, including Kyoto: The Forest within the Gate. In spring 2018, his photography show “The Universe at My Feet,” was part of the Kyotographie+ series of exhibitions.

Einarsen practices a type of photography called Miksang, a Tibetan word meaning “good eye.” He has studied for the past seven years with Michael Wood, who, together with Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, developed the Miksang approach to seeing in the 1980s. This practice focuses on a way of seeing which arises after our mental “filters”—of past experiences, associations, concepts, and distractions—have been discarded so that direct clear “seeing” can occur. Einarsen described a way of slowing down the process of seeing, and once the mental chatter of everyday life dies down, one is “stopped” by certain perceptions that then become the subjects for photography. He takes pictures of things not often noticed by others—the patterns of leaves and stones underfoot, the sky, street signs, people living their lives, ordinary things.

He is interested in textures, colors, the way light falls on objects, things that are worn out and in the background of life, things that others might consider boring. There is joy to be found in this way of seeing, focusing on details for their own sake, not because they are part of a story or concept.

To match these images with fiction might seem the height of presumption, but I felt that ultra-short fiction (I set an arbitrary length of 300 words or less) or short poetry might work. The hunch was rewarded, and some interesting writing came out of the workshop. John introduced his photography process, and then the participants took some time to choose an image and set to writing. Some of the writing is reproduced here, along with the photographs that inspired them.



The Zone

Nearly an hour had passed. She lay on her back on the kitchen floor unable to get back up. The stroke had come just as she’d started to fix the lunch they always shared at noon.

It dawned on her slowly that she could no longer read the clock. What were those shapes encircling its face? What were the three chopsticks for?

How long might it take her husband, engrossed in the image upon his easel, to realize that she hadn’t called him? To walk over from the adjoining studio, and find her writhing asymmetrically, bleeding within her skull?  And what was his name? Oh, no…

—Stewart Wachs


Ode to Kyoto

Old and mighty
Reign of tea, shadows, and light
Let in that youthful red breeze
Stop putting up a fight.

Longing for (or: The grass is greener on the other side)

Will it be cold there, or will it be hot?
Will it be hard there, or will it be soft?
What are those charcoal-blue foams I’ll meet?
Will they be dangerous or will they be sweet?
The thrill of not knowing.
Longing to be there.
Suffering when there.

                                         —Beatrix Yoshikawa



                                 red shoe
                             doesn’t dance 
                           the way it was

                                                                             —Sydney Solis

The poem form is known as Lanturne, for the shape, which resembles a Japanese lantern. 



Once I had a form.
The world was too much with me.
I’ll melt away now.                                       

—Rebecca Otowa


After the workshop we adjourned to the Spring Valley Brewery restaurant, which houses the work of six young Japanese brewers in a beautiful old machiya.

Thanks to all for attending this interesting and fruitful workshop.

(Photos courtesy of John Einarsen. Click on image for full resolution.)