Nitobe Memorial Garden at UBCThursday, April 13, 2006
When I first came to Vancouver 30 years ago I had seen perhaps 10 real live Japanese people in my life. They had been my 10 students, from the Japanese company Mitsui, that I had taught Spanish to in Mexico City. I was fascinated by all things Japanese. Japanese is pronounced exactly like Spanish as they have only five vowel sounds. I could proudly read what was on the lenses of my cameras - Asahi Pentax - Nippon Kogaku (the original Nikon lenses had this).
Sometimes you have to be a newcomer or a tourist to a city to discover its treasures. One of Vancouver's is the Nitobe Memorial Garden at UBC. It is part of the UBC Botanical Garden. But let's be exact. That's UBC Botanical Garden and Centre of Plant Research. A real botanical garden does reasearch and exchanges information with other botanical gardens worldwide. VanDusen, for example is display garden as it does not do research. Some years ago Saturday Night assigned me to photograph Nitobe Garden. The author of the piece was/is my friend David Morton. While I considered myself a competent portait photographer I was an innocent with gardens. It took me a while to figure out (only after I peeked at Japanese garden spreads in Japanese camera magazines) that Japanese gardens are best photographed on cloudy days. I learned then what I now try to teach my students at Focal Point. The big enemy of photography is contrast. I would define photography as the control of contrast. To get all those shades of green at Nitobe you need to wait (not long in Vancouver) for a cloudy day. You also try to use film with the least amount of contrast. This is usually professional colour slide film or good old wedding photography colour negative. Digital cameras have to have their contrast levels dialed down.
And why is Nitobe Garden a treasure? The water and those greens are most soothing. The garden is also quiet. One of my favourite games is to pick one of the koy and to follow it around as it meanders in the pond.