Bonsai is the art of training trees into aesthetically pleasing shapes, the cultivation of which was first practiced in ancient China. After China introduced bonsai (盆栽), which literally means “tray plantings,” to Japan through the spread of Zen Buddhism, bonsai has evolved into a highly refined art form that remains an integral part of Japanese culture today.
Through native Japanese species such as pines, azaleas, and maples, the art of bonsai embodies Japanese attention to detail and a deep appreciation for nature. As bonsai is connected to Zen Buddhist ideals, the trees take on contemplative and meditative properties.
Jonathan M. Singer brings the physical and spiritual aesthetics of bonsai to life on the pages of his latest book of photography, Fine Bonsai: Art and Nature, from Abbeville Press. A podiatrist who stopped performing surgery after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease five years ago, Dr. Singer returned to an early interest in photography with award-winning results.
A double-elephant folio of Dr. Singer’s first book, Botanica Magnifica, resides in the Cullman Rare Book Room at the Smithsonian Institution Libraries. Dr. Singer received a Hasselblad Laureate Award in 2008, and he was named the 2009 Carl Linnaeus Silver Medalist by the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences for his work, which combines art with science and enhances “our perception and understanding of the botanical world.”
Fine Bonsai continues Dr. Singer’s earlier work. Applying a bonsai artist’s attention to detail and a surgeon’s precision to the art and science of photography, Dr. Singer brings together bonsai from around the world into one spectacular volume. The handsome, large-scale book contains stunning photographs of bonsai that are part of some of the most respected public and private collections in the United States and Japan, including Omiya Bonsai Village in Saitama, whose gardens contain hundreds of thousands of specimens. Omiya Bonsai Village generally prohibits photography, but Dr. Singer was granted special access for the making of Fine Bonsai.
In addition to introducing the various styles and techniques that each species of bonsai represents, Dr. Singer selected specimens that reflect his interest in botany as well as photographic technology. Using black backdrops and manipulating natural light, Dr. Singer creates bold, colorful images that spring off the page and demonstrate how nature can at once be both delicate and powerful.
Dr. Singer’s remarkable full-color photographs are accompanied by text provided by William N. Valavanis, the head of the International Bonsai Arboretum in Rochester, New York. Valvanis, who apprenticed in Japan with famed bonsai artists Kyuzo Murata and Kakutaro Komuro in Omiya Bonsai Village, describes not only the basic attributes of each photographed subject, but he offers stories about the artists and how the trees took their shapes.
While Fine Bonsai: Art and Nature documents the ancient horticultural art form of bonsai, each of its 596 pages offers moments of contemplation and meditation.
A portion of all proceeds from Fine Bonsai will go to the Japanese Red Cross Society.
To order this impressive edition, please go to Abbeville Press.