National Geographic: Celebrate 125 Years with 3 Iconic Photographs

Michael S. Yamashita on the Poetic Landscape

MICHAEL S. YAMASHITA
Basho Sunset, Japan, 2006

“In the 17th Century, there was a Japanese poet named Basho who wrote Japan’s most popular literary work ever, called Oku no Hosomichi, which means “The Narrow Road to the Far North.” Basho is the poet who brought the haiku to its highest point of art, and it was my assignment to follow in his footsteps as he recorded them. It was interesting because he writes poetry about nature, and my whole assignment simply to make poetic pictures that fit Basho’s themes and to follow his route. So wherever I went and I saw a picture, I made one.

“The day I took this photo was a beautiful day, obviously — sometime in September or October. We were driving along the road and the sun was setting out the window, so I just stopped to find a subject. We were traveling through a region called Tohoku. It’s pretty far north, that part of Japan, so it was chilly that time of year. I got out, bundled up in my jacket, and wandered around and got way down on the ground. I was on my stomach, looking through the grass, and found what you see here: basically, a harvest sun looking into the grass.

“Normally, a subject is self-evident, but in this case I was looking for something of detail. This was just a grassy field alongside the road, but it was a particular type of grass that’s well-known in Japan. The grass is very evocative of season there because it’s often associated with the fall. And Basho wrote about the wind and about grass. In one of his most famous poems, he visits a field where a famous battle was fought and talks about the fallen Samurai on top of the grass. So it made sense to shoot this grass picture — it was poetry.

“How often do you have a subject as simple as grass for a story, especially for something like National Geographic? But beauty is where you find it, and that was basically what Basho wrote about. He was just a great observer of natural things.” — As told to Christie’s

To explore more iconic National Geographic images from Christie’s exclusive collection of rare and beautiful prints, visit the online auction from July 19 to 29. For more on this and other online-only sales, see www.christies.com/onlineonly