Would I be writing right now if I did not meet Justin Tan? If so, what would I be writing, and with what frequency? And what kind of person would I be?
I recall that we first met at a Christmas party taking place between two Takayama apartments, one of which belonged to Carl. My first impression was that while he was not shy, he plied a quiet sensitivity, as if the people around him were entwined in a gossamer web through which he received tiny vibrations. Actually conversing with him revealed that he was also quick-witted, affable and funny, and also well-liked by everyone in our little ex-pat community. After that we became fast friends and have managed to maintain our bond through frequent correspondence, in spite of the things that separate us, namely space and time.
The typophotography project came about not long after I returned from Japan. Justin is all about collaboration and conceived of a way for individuals with different creative alignments to come together through images and words. It seems very simple, but what I have always found to be haunting and poignant about typophotos is the awareness of distance they foster. Justin is well travelled: he has met many people along the way, forged bonds with some of them, and has had to say goodbye to some in turn. Justin understands distance.
As a writer of typophotos, my awareness of distance begins when I receive the image I’m supposed to work on and I realize that I have been sent someone else’s moment, a crystallization of one very specific place in time. All that’s needed to see the feelings, thoughts, and sensations coded within is my own sense of self and the empathic gravity that attends it, pulling me towards that other person. When I place myself within that crystal of sorts, how can I truly differentiate between what is mine and what belongs to the other when all of our colours have combined to make such a clean, pure light? In that moment I can suspend my disbelief in the truth that we are all one, the disbelief rooted in the fact that there is a you and a me, and that we are always changing, and that we can only see as far as the moment just before we change and become else.
Last night I was driving home against the setting sun, feeling the ache of the many distances and separations I have marked. Then, for a moment the light burned through all of my other senses and everything in mind, filling the shadowed valleys of my heart so that space and time were obliterated in white - and then the world faded back, blushing into the polychromatic many.
When I arrived home there was a letter from Justin on the bannister. Inside of it he had collected some of the typophotos I have contributed to - I didn’t realize how many there were. Each one spoke to something I share with someone else, a bridge through time and space. Each was unique and had its own colours - perhaps if I collect enough they will combine to make that blinding white, that light that forces me to see with more than my eyes.
If that ever happens for any of us, it will be due in large part to people in our lives like Justin. And whatever we become, let us trust that we are not alone and be thankful everyday.
(and peace to Hanna P, wherever you are in the world)