Finding Beauty in the Ordinary: July’s Wabi Sabi Photo-a-Day Challenge

Summer is about the ordinary, it’s often the time we rediscover our playful selfs as we encourage children (and maybe ourselves) to run through the lawn sprinklers, lick popsicles from the ice cream truck, and spit watermelon seeds as we sit on the front porch.  We roll up our sleeves, walk barefoot, and sip glass after glass of iced tea in tall frosted glasses that drip, almost crying with the pleasing coolness on a hot, summer day.

I first heard of Wabi Sabi from my friend Susan a few years ago when she asked her students to focus on the ordinary in research projects they were doing in her middle school English class.  I remember how excited she was that they were discovering the beauty in the “old school”—typewriters, rotary dial phones, handwriting…and so much more than I can’t even begin to remember now.  

Wikipedia offers us this definition:

Wabi-sabi (侘寂?) represents a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”.

My photography has heightened my awareness of the complexities of beauty in the ordinary as I have learned to tune my eye to seek out the familiar in new ways.  So when Margit gifted me with the picture book, Wabi Sabi by Mark Weibstein, I found myself thinking about the Wabi Sabi around me.  Weibstein pairs his story of a cat named Wabi Sabi with Haiku, following the Americanized three-line, 5-7-5 syllable pattern, that helps the definition-seeking cat understand its name…and adds this definition, for us slower to understand folks, as well:

Wabi Sabi: a way of seeing the world. It finds beauty and harmony in what is simple, imperfect, natural, modest, and mysterious. It can be a little dark, but it is also warm and comfortable. It may best be understood as a feeling rather than as an idea. 

The more I have been thinking about this concept of Wabi Sabi, the more I want to explore it more intentionally through my lens.  

Here’s a few of my ideas…along with a Haiku attempt with each.  Each of these represents my interpretation of Wabi Sabi, an appreciation of the imperfect, often fleeting beauty I find through my lens.  Letting 17 syllables speak for me is a challenge, but an interesting one, creating another layer of Wabi Sabi for me.

Lizard_wabi sabi

A flurry and munch!

Time for posing and sunning

Scaly modeling

Mountains from Iron Mountain

Purple mountains stand

Off in the distance watching

Both desert and beach

broken sculpture ucsd

It’s a hard knock life

Reflecting privilege’s promise

Strong enough to thrive


Kegs and art mingle

Chatting on a street corner

Exchanging cultural news

And to stretch my exploration (and yours too) I have come up with a list of potential prompts or categories to consider.  (I notice that I tend toward nature for my photographic exploration of beauty–these prompts are meant to push my thinking and seeing in new ways.)

1.  On the corner

2.  Nature

3.  People

4.  Celebrate

5.  Inside

6.  Under

7.  Home

8.  Outside

9.  Places

10.  Animals

11.  Food

12.  Personal

13.  Things

14.  Mood

15.  Looking up

16.  Sitting down

17.  Looking down

18.  Early

19.  Growing

20.  Morning

21.  Sound

22.  Growing

23.  Feeling

24.  Places

25.  Night

26.  Light

27.  Hot

28.  Early

28.  Travel

29.  Between

30.  Smell

31.  Icy

So now it’s your turn.  Explore what Wabi Sabi means to you as you examine the ordinary in your life this summer.  After you shoot, post a photo each day with the hashtag #sdawpphotovoices to Twitter, Instagram, Flicker, Google+ and/or Facebook (the more the better!), so that we can all enjoy the posts. Try your hand at an accompanying Haiku and explore how it expands, defines, or changes the meaning of the image you share. You are invited to create a pingback by linking to this url or post your blog address in the comment section. It’s fun for me to see what others are doing with the same prompts I am using!

With summer in full swing, it’s the perfect time for some playfulness and experimentation…look for beauty and the unexpected in the ordinary–let it surprise and delight you!  You can post every day, once a week, or even sporadically throughout the month…whatever works in your life. You can play this game by posting your pictures in the order of the prompts or post the one you find on the day you find it.  You get to make your own rules!  Be sure to share and tag your photos with #sdawpphotovoices so we can find them!






9 thoughts on “Finding Beauty in the Ordinary: July’s Wabi Sabi Photo-a-Day Challenge

  1. Pingback: Rubbing Elbows with Nature | Thinking Through My Lens

  2. gracer77

    I have been playing with this idea of “found art” in the ordinary for some time now through my photography. I am hoping the link below will take you to a very small sampling on my Flickr page. This reminds me that I need to seriously update the album! I am inspired by your invitation to add haiku to the images. Thanks so much. And please let me know how I can link my page … I am new to hashtagging, etc!

    A wall in a Chelsea gallery lobby


  3. Pingback: Blog Birthday: A Reflection | Thinking Through My Lens

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