Photography by Neil Woodman


Takashi Amano

 Amano at home...

If I think about who influences me the most I have to be honest and say to myself it's Takashi Amano, and perhaps a bit unfairly in the UK he's not even thought of as a photographer. 

I first came across Amano's book, Nature Aquarium World about 15 years ago while looking around a local Aquarium Store. I'd always had some kind of fish tank growing up and I suppose have always been fascinated by underwater landscapes for fish, something which was more like their natural environment than gaudy coloured gravel, bubbling pirate chests and sunken galleons. Those ornamental things had their place but didn't interest me, so when I found Nature Aquarium World it was a revelation. Finally here were underwater environments, or Nature Aquariums as Amano called them designed in such as way as to echo a nature, not copy it exactly, but represent it by clever use of real aquatic plants and natural materials like wood and stone. It had a lot more to do with Japanese gardening and bonsai than it did fishkbeeping which really appealed to me. I quickly set about creating my own layouts using the techniques Amano had described. I arranged branches and rocks with moss attached with cotton and attempted to cover the foreground with carpeting plants and the background with larger stem plants to create the impression of depth. It was difficult and there were lots of failures involved but I loved doing it and had a passion for it. I became a better observer of nature and although my mistakes were many I developed a certain level of compentency for Nature Aquariums.

I also learned about Wabi Sabi from Nature Aquarium World. This typically Japanese sensibility is quite nebulous and difficult to pinpoint exactly; I think of it as a kind of quality to an object or place. This might be an old worn tool or a mossy rock in a stream, anything which has a a kind of rugged beauty enhanced by time I believe is what wabi sabi is, so I suppose having read so much of Amano's works it crept into me and it's became a sensibility of my own.

 It wasn't just the book though, it was Amano's own company, ADA (Aqua Design Amano), and their products that inspired me. Before then, aquariums were mostly glass boxes on metal stands, often housed in overly ornate frames and cabinets to fit in with your great Aunt's Edwardian furniture. Some manufacturers like Juwel had attempted to make their equipment more user friendly and symathetically designed so as to not look out of place in the home but they were few and far between, particularly in the UK; from a design perspective it was all a bit lazy and outdated. ADA's products were throughly more industrial in their approach, clear glass carefully siliconed together so as not to appear stuck with anything at all, stainless steel filters and steel frames for stands or functional grey cabinets, to beautifully crafted filter pipes and CO2 diffusers (an essential requirement for a planted aquarium), everything was designed in such a way as to be functional but astetically inspiring. Like Leica cameras and I suppose Apple products ADA sat in that place where form and function align in perfect symmetry and desirabiltiy for the afflicted.

The only problem was you couldn't buy the stuff in Europe, it had to be imported from Japan or at a push the US, if the retailer would allow it, and it was eye wateringly expensive. Books and publications though seemed to be a bit easier on the wallet and to order direct, so I set about buying ADA's 'Aqual Journal' magazines initially and a few of Amano's books too, they were in Japanese with little no English translations but I didn't care, the images were enough.

As interest in the Nature Aquarium hobby grew in the UK though my interest started to wane. It had started to become more about science than art, discussion forums teamed with heated debate between aquarists arguing over optimum water parameters and pH values. It seemed to me they'd lost sight of what the whole thing was about in the first place, a love of Nature and it's diversity and ecology. Hobbists started to baulk at the seemingly inflated prices for ADA products and looked towards making their own versions, either hardware or consumerables like fertilisers and CO2. I felt a bit distanced from the whole thing, something which I was rather precious and if I'm honest aloof about had become mainstream and popularist, that, with my increasing failure to sucessfully maintain a tank over a long period turned me off the whole thing and I put it aside to focus more on photography.