Wabi-sabi is a Japanese concept that roughly translates to “imperfect beauty.” It’s an aesthetic that comes from Buddhist teaching; it describes a beauty that’s imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.
Though there is something appealing about fresh new things wrapped in plastic, we often prefer old, worn-out things. I think of my old LPs with their crackle and pops; my t-shirts from Japan in the 1980’s; a faded hockey team photo from 1972; a baseball glove from 1987. You have your own long list, I’m sure.
Lots of times you may find yourself seeking this wabi-sabi aspect in your photographs. It’s something I do often in my photography–preferring to shoot a run-down street sign over a shiny new one. The lyric I’ve seen most often invoked in discussing wabi-sabi is from “Anthem” by Leonard Cohen: “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”
There could be many interpretations of the faded “wrong way” sign in the photo above: this is the wrong way to maintain a street sign, or it’s just a sign of the times. It might as well say, “Nothing lasts forever.”
Photo tip: Juxtaposition can lead to visual interest. Try including an object in the foreground that seems incongruous with the rest of the scene.