Thomas S. Elias, Ph.D., is chairman of the Viewing Stone Association of North America and a former director of the U.S. National Arboretum. He is the author or editor of seven books including Chrysanthemum Stones, The Story of Stone Flowers.
The Ancient Art of the Scholar's Rock
Renowned photographer Jonathan M. Singer presents his striking black-and-white images of Chinese ornamental rocks from a leading collection.
Shaped by nature and selected by man, scholars’ rocks, or gongshi, have been prized by Chinese intellectuals since the Tang dynasty, and are now sought after by Western collectors as well. They are a natural subject for the photographer Jonathan M. Singer, most recently acclaimed for his images of those other remarkable hybrids of art and nature, Japanese bonsai.
Here Singer turns his lens on some 140 fine gongshi, ancient and modern, from the world-class collection of Kemin Hu, a recognized authority on this art form. In his photographs, Singer captures the spiritual qualities of these stones as never thought possible in two dimensions. He shows us that scholars’ rocks truly are, in Hu’s words, “condensations of the vital essence and energy of heaven and earth.”
Hu contributes an introductory essay on the history and aesthetics of scholars’ rocks, explaining the traditional terms of stone appreciation, such as shou (thin), zhou (wrinkled), lou (channels), and tou (holes). She also provides a narrative caption for each stone, describing its history and characteristics.
Spirit Stones forms a trilogy with Singer’s two previous books, Botanica Magnifica and Fine Bonsai. In these volumes, he has established a new style of photography that blends the tonal richness and chiaroscuro of Old Master painting with a scientific clarity of detail; they represent a lasting achievement.