Masaru Goto is a photographer with a long legacy of documentary photography, examining tough subjects and bringing light to issues that are often underserved. For his project, Shi Ki, he tackles a difficult personal journey of familial loss, documenting the passage of time through the life cycle of cherry trees, as his mother declines. It’s a wonderful metaphorical project that celebrates the beauty and the power of the natural world as it parallels the last days of his mother’s life.
Masaru has 28 years experience photographing social and human rights issues in Asia and South America. He studied photography at Parsons The New School for Design in New York City. His photographs convey a strong message of compassion; highlighting the plight and resilience of ordinary people who are caught in conflicts, suffering under oppression or economically disadvantaged.
A personal note:
The characters that are pronounced “Shi Ki” can have two meanings. One is “four seasons”. Over four seasons I watched my mother fade away. Another meaning is “time of death”. At the end of those four seasons, my mother died. I was with her. She is with me.
I saw cherry trees in full blossom outside the hospital room window. Mother, lying in bed, looking at the same view, said, “I might not see the cherry trees next year.”
When the cherry blossoms began to fall, she prepared for death. She wrote a will. Accepted her fate. Cried in secret. She was dignified and beautiful.
As the temperatures rose and the trees grew full and green, my mother lost weight, became emaciated. We walked under the trees, she in a wheelchair. Enjoying the early summer scenery, she smiled her best smile.
By the time the leaves had turned the bright colors of early autumn, she was hovering between life and death. Without speaking, I talked to her. Opened my heart. Eventually, the leaves fell from the trees, coloring the ground red, and my mother slipped calmly into a deep sleep.
Since then, snow has fallen. Winter has turned again to spring. And the cherry tree has begun to bloom again.
There is memory in these photographs. Proof of what my mother lived for.
I sometimes talk to my mother when I look at them. I still talk to my mother.--Masaru Goto