A Way of Seeing the World

Wabi Sabi is a way of seeing the world that is at the heart
of Japanese culture. It finds beauty and harmony in what is
simple, imperfect, natural, modest, and mysterious.
– Mark Reibstein, Wabi Sabi

Petra, Jordan

To banish imperfection is to destroy expression,
to check exertion, to paralyze vitality.
– John Ruskin, The Stones of Venice

Taj Mahal, Agra, India

Tranquil simplicity, rustic elegance, imperfect beauty…
these are qualities that Wabi Sabi embraces.
Wabi Sabi: The Art of Everyday Life
– Diane Durston

Tibet, China

Wabi Sabi suggests that beauty is a dynamic event that occurs between you and
something else. Beauty can spontaneously occur at any moment given the
proper circumstances, context, or point of view. Beauty is thus an altered state of
consciousness, an extraordinary moment of poetry and grace.
– Leonard Koren, Wabi-Sabi: For Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Take something irregular, rough-hewn, off-kilter, incomplete…
and it’s all the more desirable for its flaws.
–  Oliver Burkeman

 Havana, Cuba

It is only with age that you acquire the gift to evaluate
decay, the epiphany of Wordsworth, the wisdom of Wabi Sabi:
nothing is perfect, nothing is complete, nothing lasts.
– Paul Theroux

Havana, Cuba

All things counter, original, spare, strange; Whatever is fickle, freckled
(who knows how?) With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fa
thers-forth whose beauty is past change: Praise him.
– Gerard Manley Hopkins
quoted in the Daily Good

Omo Valley, Ethiopia
Omo Valley, Ethiopia

The beauty of Wabi Sabi is rooted in modesty that is elegantly
perceived. The aesthetic pleasures of Wabi Sabi depend on attitude
and practice as much, or more, than on the materiality itself.
– Leonard Koren, op.cit.

Kathmandu, Nepal

The underlying principles of Wabi Sabi are diametrically opposed to
those of their Western counterparts, whose values are rooted in a world-
view that values permanence, grandeur, symmetry, and perfection.
– Andrew Juniper

Luang Prabang, Laos
Preah Khan, Angkor, Cambodia

For a lovely bowl
Let us arrange these flowers
For there is no rice
– Matsuo Bashō, Japanese Haiku

Karelia, Russia

If you look closely at a tree you’ll notice it’s knots and dead
branches, just like our bodies.What we learn is that beauty
and imperfection go together wonderfully.
– Matthew Fox

Havana, Cuba
Srinagar, Kashmir
Mingun Pagoda. Mandalay, Myanmar



By Steve McCurry

Steve McCurry has been one of the most iconic voices in contemporary photography for more than thirty years, with scores of magazine and book covers, over a dozen books, and countless exhibitions around the world to his name.

To read more about Steve go to

41 replies on “A Way of Seeing the World”

Mingun Pagoda. Mandalay, Myanmar. All the photos are great, but this one is very special because I have been there. I took my own pictures. None are as nice as the one Steve has here . Thank you so much for sharing these great photos..

I can’t imagine a more perfect celebration of imperfection than the gorgeous images you’ve shared here.

Wabi Sabi would not be focused on even photographic perfection. The value of imperfection is all inclusive. That is why it is so difficult for those in our society. We simply do not have wabi sabi as a part of our value system.

Wabi Sabi defines my entire life. It would be of tremendous value to our society that does not tend to value aging, its elders and wisdom.

Steve, always such an eye, I can never decide which is more moving or unusually captivating. You have such a gift of seeing a universal symmetry amid unique details–the humanity within randomness and chaos, the momentous in the superfluous. And of course, not all even very good photographers do. They are very moving.
(Where will I find your book in Oct.? There must be others even in, say Powell’s in Portland, OR.? Will check it out.)

Thank you so much for the glimpses into other cultures and ways of being in the world. So moving and immediate and compassionate.

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