Artist: Werner Bischof (Swiss, 1916–1954)
Medium: Gelatin silver print
Dimensions: Image: 35.3 x 42.1 cm (13 7/8 x 16 9/16 in.)
Credit Line: Gift of Photography in the Fine Arts, 1959
Accession Number: 59.559.4
Rights and Reproduction: © Bischof Werner / Magnum Photos
An early member of the Magnum photo agency (he was admitted in 1949), Bischof worked mostly in Asia. His early training in applied art and graphic design imbued him with a keen formal eye, which was consistently in evidence as he worked to document newsworthy events and experiences. Here he has captured the delicate furor of a heavy snowstorm while photographing monastic life at the Meiji temple in Tokyo. His rhyming of the lollipop-pruned trees with the figures and their umbrellas, along with the contrast between the wooded environment and the low, geometric forms of the buildings, is a fitting representation of its subject. The building is a Shinto shrine to Emperor Meiji, who was responsible for ushering the modern era into Japan—he instituted educational, social, and governmental reforms that brought the country nearer to normal relations with the West—and the prominence of the natural world in the temple image subtly evokes the tenets of the Shinto religion, which deifies elements such as snow, wind, and trees as sacred spirits of the deceased.