#829. Wabi-Sabi or… “L’Oeuvre du Temps”

By Pascal Ravach | Travel Photography

Mar 09

This is a guest post by Pascal Ravach whose photos of weathered walls struck me when he sent them over for the Wabi-Sabi challenge. What I found fascinating was that much of what you will see below has been copied by contemporary artists but here, gets done autmatically by the weather or heavy usage or some other random act of wear and tear and repair. Pascal kindly agreed to send these photos, previously destined for an exhibition, so we could publish a post devoted to his pet project on walls. Thank you very much to him, I hope you all like the photographs as much as I did. All yours, Pascal R.


Before I start, please note : I have left part of the title in French, because it is very hard to render in English:. “The Creation of Time”, “The Work of Time”… whatever ;D


Well, here we go.

Being in the “shy” category, I never considered publishing my photos before DearSusan… but it is such a community of nice people, staff and readers, that I ran out of excuses… Rather, Pascal J’s proposal convinced me to simply share my passion with you.

In Vietnam 6

In my teenage years, being already fascinated by the Japanese culture, I was called “an egg” once… white outside, yellow inside… oh well 🙂

Hence, the first time Pascal wrote the word “Wabi-Sabi” in DS, I jumped off my chair… in my case, opposite to what Pascal wrote, wabi-sabi is for me an intimate concept since more than 40 yeas (yes, I am that old :D).

But it was only in 2009, when a wall “touched” me deeply in Cuba, that I applied the concept in photography… better late than never 🙂

In Cuba 1

Decays create beautiful patterns…

Now… notice that, outside of Japan with their love and respect for old things, wealth and wabi-sabi don’t often sleep in the same bed; in many developed countries, affluent people break and build new…

Then it was in Asia (at large: South-East and India) that it became a permanent state of mind for me… I can’t count how many times locals (and tourists) looked at me like I was the stupidest person on Earth, missing the « real » spot 😀

More and more, my attention was grabbed by century-old walls, where poverty triggered people to renovate them with a cheap paint or whatever they could get; that poverty and negligence “created” all these layers, where Time became the Artist..

In India 3
In India 2
In Thailand 1
In Vietnam 1
In Vietnam 2
In VIetnam 3
In Vietnam 4

It can be, simply, a job done with very limited ressources… I am sure the people closing their garage never realized they created such a nice « modern art » patchwork 🙂

In Vietnam 5

It can be, simply, painting worn by thousands of people sitting on this bench in a bus stop in Kuala Lumpur…

In Malaysia 1

For Westerners, old cities offer that, as in Bruges, a famous Belgian place …

In Europe 1

Of course, the concept does not have to be perceived only in buildings or landscapes… As Lad Sessions’s wonderful pictures show, an old car does the trick, as does this abandoned scooter in the middle of Vietnam.

How many lives!

Scooter, Vietnam

It can also apply not to the surface, but to the structure itself, as in these ancient walls in Thailand…

I don’t see them as « ruins », but as fluid living curves…

In Thailand 2
In Thailand 3


Having seen John Wilson’s superb photo of a wall, full of interesting patterns, I guess there are many out there looking at these walls… after all maybe I am not alone in my obsession 🙂

Pascal Ravach
Currently in Saigon, Vietnam.


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  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Fascinating, Pascal.
    I did a similar study several years ago, of all the different colours and textures that I see as walk around my own local district in Australia, in the various eucalyptus trees here.
    Your photos have more variation in the colours than I managed with that “shoot”.
    What you post says to me is that we must open our eyes more- there is so much to see, if only we do that. 🙂

    • Pascal Ravach says:

      So right, Jean-Pierre… when I see the work of others, I keep telling myself “didn’t see that”… or more sad “couldn’t see that” 🙂
      At least, these walls are big… easier to spot for me 😀

  • philberphoto says:

    Pascal, your shots should really be called “les Ravach du temps qui passe”…:-) More than highly enjoyable! What a great idea! I did a few myself, but never harvesting and collecting them, as you do.

    • Pascal Ravach says:

      Well perceived, (do I say Philbert?)… I am a hopeless nostalgic; as I said, it became my obsession because it fitted so well all my limitations 🙂

  • Kristian Wannebo says:

    There is also another layer, easily seen in the photo of the Bruges wall (“In Europe 1”):
    The small irregularities in handmade structures making them come alive – which never happens with machine made structures.

    In e.g. “In Vietnam 6 & 4” and “In Thailand 2 & 3” this “layer” behind the aging enhances (to me) the L’Oeuvre du Temps “effect”.
    – – –

    This is a kind of photography I really enjoy.
    They are all lovely photos!

    • Pascal Ravach says:

      I totally agree, Kristian… wabi-sabi has a strong sense of imperfect beauty… and yes, what you say about hand-made structures being always more alive always touched me… I respect geometric pictures of architecture, and a friend’s ultra-expensive modern house, but I always found that.. well, colder.
      I also strongly believe in the “energy” stored by objects when built by “hands”… why do we prefer to buy an artisan’s work rather than a mechanical copy?
      I don’t think it is only linked to what is visible 🙂

  • Pascal Ravach says:

    Thanks, guys
    In fact, I have a couple hundreds of these walls 🙂
    To be honest, it came to me also because my eyes made me too slow for the kind of street photography I like the most, and Asia and it’s limitations on cabin luggages pushed me to use my iPhone and my M43 rather than my FF… hence less landscape and architecture… an example of the consequences of lesser shooting envelope 🙂
    But yes, once it was launched I liked to find that in many places… a bit like macro-photo, something I did a lot in the past 🙂


    • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

      There’s nothing wrong with the sensors on iPhones – and micro 4/3rds is much the same as ACP or HF or whatever you want to call it, which I shoot with more than the other three formats I use, Pascal – it’s more convenient and not as heavy. Birders use them all the time, for similar reasons.
      Anyway, unless your doing prints that are A3 or larger, nobody will ever know the difference.
      Handmade objects? Machines make all sorts of things – without soul.
      An example I was confronted with as a kid was “electric planes” for carpentry/woodwork/whatever. As the blades spun round, they left a trail of tiny furrows along the length of the grain. Of course there was an obvious solution – grab an “electric sander” and smooth it all over. OK – bigger – brighter – better – faster – brilliant!
      But where is the character in all of this? There isn’t any. There’s no craftsmanship. The stuff roars out of factories, but none of it is unique. It serves a purpose – in its dull methodical way.
      Another example is the difference between “home made cakes” and “bought cakes” (or even worse – cakes made from bought cake mix). It’s entirely possible – thought becoming increasingly unlikely) that they both have the same nutritional value. But wildly improbably that they have the same flavour.
      DearSusan is about like minded people discussing how to “create”. While we might all end up controlled by AI, AI is never going to “create” in the sense that humans can and do. Nor is any other machine made creation of the human imagination. Because whatever they are capable of producing will definitionally lack one very important ingredient – “personality”. Or, if you prefer – “character” – oops, I am not making this up – I wrote that BEFORE I went to hit the “Post Comment” button, and noticed Lad also talks about *character*!

      • Pascal Ravach says:

        I too see your post after Lad’s one and my reply to him.
        To be clear: of course there is nothing “wrong” with smartphones and M43… we all know that the subject is key, and I kept more than 50.000 photos taken with these; it’s just that I clearly see what some lenses (like the ZM 50) on a decent FF can produce… you can try all the possible M43 lenses on the all the M43 bodies, and never get that… for some subjects, the difference can be important.

        • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

          Pascal, while I do agree to some extent – and do use larger sensors and more expensive lenses for some purposes – most of the time it is piffle. Because unless the result is enlarged to a size far greater than most photos ever will, it makes scarcely any difference. And the VAST majority of photos these days aren’t even printed at all – let alone a metre by one and half metres, or something like that!
          If they stay digital, the biggest TV screen in the world has less pixels than my D810 did! And there’s hardly anyone out there right now who even owns such a screen. Almost NOBODY views any of their photos on such a screen!
          So I’ve done a complete rethink. I have whatever gear I have. I bought it all for a purpose. I use whatever I want to or need for the task in hand. And apart from that I’ve abandoned all that “pixel counting” stuff, and gone back to taking photographs.

          • Pascal Ravach says:

            I see your point, Jean-Pierre, but we don’t talk about the same thing. No need to consider large outputs: even on my laptop, with images 1024 pixels wide, I definitely see what I prefer with *some* lenses on FF bodies. I have been exploring the M43 lenses to find that again, it simply does not exist (let’s say “yet”… but people I respect came to the conclusion that, *with the actual technology*, we can’t get that from M43 sensors)…. and please remember: since more than 15 years, I live part of the year abroad… I started with flight cases weighting tons… making my equipment lighter became a vital need… yet I mourn what I lost.
            To avoid an endless debate, I agree that for many kind of photography, M43 is not worst,,, and in some case is better.
            No FF or MF camera ever gave me the “reactivity” of my Olympus, the way these bodies do the job while being so discrete…
            Knowing the limitations of our equipment is not a negative or a bitter attitude… it just pushes us to use them for what they are good for, as Pascal J. says about his smartphone 🙂

            • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

              I do agree with you – I just want more creativity and less argument – at my age the argumentation is not “interesting” – I just want to have fun, enjoy my life, and take photos – I gave up caring what anyone else thinks about my photography half a century ago, when I copped some ridiculous comments from a group with a different (and irrelevant) mindset.
              When I travel these days, I take my DSLR FF and a pair of Otus lenses, which is pushing it a bit – but I’m not denying the image quality they give, and since I’m never going to have the chance to take the same shots again (actually who does anyway?) I want to capture the best I can, to take home.
              That aside – I have 4 cams, 4 formats, and use them all. But rarely if ever on the same shoot. And much the same with all the lenses.
              Your point about the M43 is exactly the same as birders tell you about the advantages of Nikon’s D500 – only a half frame (APC) sensor. Its big brother is the D850, with a much bigger FF sensor – but the crop frame boosts telephoto lenses so much that the D500 becomes the logical choice. Technically the D850 is clearly “better” – I have one – I love it – but there’s no doubting the creativity boost I can get out of the D500, either. They’re just “different”.
              And Olympus has been giving creativity a boost, and its rivals a kick in the pants, at least as far back as the 1960s – when a friend of mine and I went on a photography holiday together, shooting side by side, with his “tiny” Olympus and my great beast (a Zeiss Contarex). I loved his photos every bit as mine. And isn’t that the point? If not, then it should be! 🙂

              • Pascal Ravach says:

                Funny you mention the old Olympus, Jean-Pierre.
                In 1981-1982, having a big yearly income (no more, by far, alas :D), I fell in love with the concept, and purchased nearly everything they made.
                Still today, 37 years later, I keep my two OM-4Ti, 13 lenses from 16 FE to 500 mirror, all their macro lenses (the 90F2 is superb), a binocular and a microscope 🙂

  • Lad Sessions says:

    I find these endlessly interesting. They—and the walls they portray—have *character*! Thank you for noticing these small nooks of beauty and for bringing them to our notice.

  • Pascal Ravach says:

    Thanks, Lad
    I think that finding these « small nooks » (nice expression) is the key, but I confess that when I saw your pics, I though “ok, I must bring back better cams again” 😀
    As surprisingly good as they can be, the iPhone and M43 “draw” being interesting, their way to simplify the color palette is a real thing.
    I found that the “dimensionality” of your pics didn’t detract from the sheer beauty, it added.
    Time to fight with airlines again?

  • John W says:

    A very impressive collection Pascal. I’m especially drawn to the scooter and Vietnam 3. Ohhhh, the possibilities there. Malaysia 1 looks like a caricature of someone flexing their muscles. Amazing isn’t it how many secrets are hidden in the common place and uncommon beauty in the mundane … if we only take the time to look and to see.


    • Pascal Ravach says:

      Thanks, John 🙂

      Yes, it is surprising… regarding the wall (VN 3), I have a few of them with strange but simple patterns, looking like there were intentional.

      For the bench, I have 4… all of them present these fractal-like details… it is more evident in full resolution; I found that very intriguing… I am used to fractals in everything, but appearing under the constant pressure of… bottoms, that’s new 😀

      Anyway, believe it or not, but even with hundreds of walls on my drive, your… still haunts me 🙂
      I took photos once, from an ULM above the volcanoes of the Reunion Island (ok, age didn’t make me more intelligent), and the patterns were very close to yours… that kind of similitude is even more fascinating!
      After Proust (thanks Philippe), Blaise Pascal now 🙂

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