People often ask me how and why I decided to use “persimmon” in my business name. It’s a good question. Unfortunately, it’s also a long story.To give you an idea, here’s the Top Ten reasons in a short list:
- I like persimmons
- I like Autumn, and persimmons are so autumnal
- The whole “first name, last name” thing didn’t work
- It’s memorable
- Persimmons make for a cute logo
- Persimmons remind me of Japan, where I spent a year in college
- There’s a complex metaphorical significance to the persimmon that relates to my photography
- No one else was using the name
- Persimmons seem classy and sophisticated, despite being a fruit
That all sounds rather contrived, but in truth it was a much more complicated process that led to choosing the little orange fruit as my namesake.
Generally, the HOW of choosing Persimmon comes down to one long brainstorm during a car trip to and from Eugene, Oregon. I had already decided that the common practice of owners naming their photography businesses after themselves wouldn’t work for me. My name just didn’t fit. “Kathryn Speyer Photography” sounded all right, but I’m really not Kathryn. I’m Kat. And “Kat Speyer Photography” wasn’t going to cut it. For one, it didn’t roll off the tongue very well. And then there’s the fact that west-coasters tend to pronounce “Speyer” as “SPAY-er,” which left my business as as “cat spayer photography.” Perhaps memorable, but more, er, veterinary than I wanted it to be.
Besides, I had already begun to involve Justin in my business, and what if he became a partner? A key participant? Wouldn’t he feel resentful to have his work overshadowed by my name?
I knew the risks to straying from the path of “traditional” branding, but I had made up my mind. Now, that left the more complicated matter of finding something that WAS right.
I wanted a name that was organic, colorful, simple, and memorable. I wanted something with a good “mouth feel” and visual branding. I wanted something that had meaning to me.
For a few long hours, Justin and I rolled through the names of trees, flowers, places, and alternative first and last names. Nothing was working, and anything tempting was already in use. We started to get more creative, moving to characters from Japanese folklore, photographic terms, and visual metaphors. It was all too abstract. Round and round we went in circles.
We were almost back to Seattle… the city skyline was in sight… when one of us hit upon “persimmon.”
With “persimmon,” we’d discovered upon a name that not only fulfilled several key branding needs (interesting, visually marketable, not commonplace, etc) but also had a significant personal importance. Persimmon drew forth from me a deep nostalgia for my second home in Japan. And there was something more, a meaning behind the fruit that was apparent not only in my own yearning memories but in the type of experience that I wanted to provide as a photographer, and through my photographs.
I was taken back to 2007, re-visiting Kyoto with my parents, photographing persimmons, fat and full, over the pond at Ryoan-ji… and how later the same day, we visited Rakushi-sha, the “hut of the fallen persimmons” in Arashiyama…
Rakushi-sha was the cottage of Kyorai, disciple of famous Japanese poet, Matsuo Basho. In its garden, there are about 40 persimmon trees.
Persimmons, quick to hasten from unripe and bitter, to temporarily ripe and delicious, to soft, rotting and fetid, embody the Japanese concept of wabi sabi. Wabi sabi is the both the embodiment and appreciation of life’s imperfection, patina, simplicity, and incomplete nature. A central concept of wabi sabi is also the impermanence and temporary beauty of existence: the value of each moment in all its fullness, perfect or imperfect.
Persimmons are also tied to the Japanese aesthetic of shibui, which signifies a desirable simplicity, subtlety, and unobtrusiveness, and also a bitter and astringent taste, like that of an unripe persimmon.
So here we have a garden full of the humble persimmon, delectable in its short ripeness and otherwise unpalatable. Kyorai, with his ripening persimmon harvest, sells the fruit to a merchant, as it is too much for him to consume alone. Although the fruit is almost at its perfect peak, he decides to wait just one more night before plucking the persimmons from the trees. In the darkness, a storm swept over Arashiyama (Which means Stormy Mountain. Ironic, no?) and Kyorai awoke to find all his persimmons rotten and ruined on the ground.
A penniless poet, he had to return the money he had taken for the harvest, and took it as a lesson that he should not strive for material gain. At his hut, now christened rakushi-sha, he could clearly view the stormy mountain through the bare branches of his persimmon trees. It was beautiful in a way he’d never seen it before. Bitterness and sweetness, the lessons of a fleeting life, and all the beautiful imperfections of the natural world embodied in one little story.
To quote from wikipedia, “In one sense wabi sabi is a training where the student of wabi sabi learns to find the most simple objects interesting, fascinating and beautiful. Fading autumn leaves would be an example. Wabi sabi can change our perception of our world to the extent that a chip or crack in a vase makes it more interesting and give the object greater meditative value. Similarly materials that age such as bare wood, paper and fabric become more interesting as they exhibit changes that can be observed over time.”
This concept is not only what cemented my heart to Japan during the year I lived there, but also is the reason I have returned to photography again and again, particularly in difficult times… to see the beauty in life, to appreciate its impermanence and imperfection, and to capture the moments as they pass.
I started this business because I knew that I should be using photography as more than a respite. Rather than coming to it as a meditation on life, I should make the meditation my life. More than that, I should share the appreciation of the world given to me by photography with others. For me, photography has always signified memory, nostalgia, and the true essence of an instance. It’s taught me to appreciate the beauty in moments that have already passed and to be present for the moment that is now passing.
Those are the concepts upon which I have decided to build this business, and the concepts that all fit nicely into that loaded little word which is also the name of a humble fruit: Persimmon.
Not Persimmon Photography, not Persimmon Studios, Persimmon Images.