A sense of place permeates the pages of National Geographic. It always has. “To show the world and all that’s in it” was the institution’s motto for decades. Readers were “armchair travelers”, globetrotting via illustrated stories of exotic cultures featured each month. In the early 1900s, an independent-minded American woman named Eliza Scidmore was hired by National Geographic to produce such stories. Scidmore made history: She was the first woman writer and photographer for the magazine. She spent extensive time in Japan where she became enamored by the uniquely Asian rituals of daily life. Her photographs of women preparing tea or bathing babies in a tub charmed readers. She herself most enjoyed photographing the season of the cherry blossoms, which she called “sheer joy”. Her hand-tinted images are timeless portraits of bygone Japan.
More than a century later, American landscape photographers Diane Cook and Len Jenshel returned to Japan on assignment. Married partners, Cook and Jenshel create landscapes that illuminate the intersection of culture and environment in a given place. The Japan they saw was a far cry from Scidmore’s. They observed a high-tech life that surprisingly was steeped in symbols of ancient culture. For Cook and Jenshel, the cherry blossom illustrates the sense of place.