Modern Classic, Hidden Histories and My Work in Japan
The Japanese word面影 Omokage best expresses my work. Omokage refers to the aura of memory that lingers around things and certain people. In these memories are sublime currents of Japanese cultural energy that I am exploring on my artistic journey. After years of Zen meditation and esoteric training in the mountains of Japan I have become sensitive to these cultural energies. In this way, I work in the way that artist's of a pre-modern past saw the world. I often feel like I am a time traveler gleaning intuitions from other eras.
I feel like an archeologist of the Japanese soul; unearthing the hidden histories of my adopted home. My journey is a usually a very private one that is also a journey towards personal soul recovery. I see my work as similar to that of the German poet Rilke and the Irish poet Yeats. I am seeking in my work to create some kind of archaic future that embodies diverse elements of the past.
The Chief Curator of the Museum of Photographic Arts, Deborah Klochko, describes my work in the following way: The key to understand Everett’s images is in being able to peel back the layers of (cultural) references, influences, aesthetic concepts and mastery of process that are all part of the journey to his creations.
I make wet glass plate negatives using ceramic and painting techniques that allow me to create images that go beyond simple image capture. I pour unusual chemical mixtures onto glass plates in the way a potter uses glazes to make “stained landscapes” and use Japanese brushes to add texture to my light sensitive glass canvases. When my work goes well I create images whereby the chemical stains and subject matter meld together in a way that echoes the aesthetic ideal of Song dynasty Zen brush and ink artists.
The fluid qualities of the wet plate collodion photographic process allows me to explore a broad realm of Asian aesthetics. To begin to understand my work it is good to start with a familiarity of Japanese principles of formality, called shin (真), gyo (行)、and so (草). With each image I consider how much to deconstruct the formalarity of the subject; shin being most formal and so being most free form.
I do this with a variety of tarnished glass plates that I make light sensitive in a darkroom tent. The tent is set up on site where I am photographing and I use local water, gathered from springs or wells, and dust and dirt found nearby to deepen the my dialogue with the local environment. In this regard, my work is performatory. I also use a sacred triton shell horn, when possible, to purify and create a deeper resonance with the environment.
Split-second hand movements are needed to attain effective results with the chemicals and glass plates. This requires an intense coordination of eye, hand and heart. Through years of training with master artists and Buddhist priests I am able to enter as state of heightened awareness, called nakaima (中今), which translates as "being in the eternal present."
I have written several books about cultural theory in Japanese. My first interest was the cultural changes that occurred after WWII and then I started using wet glass plate photography as a focal point to understand the radical cultural shifts in the19th century Japan that led to the development of modern Japan.
I am interested in how photography can shift our perception of time and history. Having spent extensive time with pre-literate people around the world, I have become acutely aware of how our sense of time and place is culturally influenced.
Art has been a way to transmit cultural energy and explore our relationship with the world for more than 80,000 years. I’m inspired by the work of Brian Eno and Stewart Brand in their asking questions about how we perceive time in acontemporary world where time is accelerating and compressing. In my own work I am driven by an urge to explore time and its relationship with cultural memory. I am also interested in the biological source of creativity that lies beneath the matrix of memory. To explore these subjects I practice extraordinary breathing techniques and subject myself to physical austerities in nature to break through the contemporary cultural matrix that clouds our lives.
My home base is a 250 year old hermitage on Mt. Hiko in western Japan. I travel the country exploring topics of cultural memory. The wet plate process allows me to slow down and work intuitively. I don't use a light meter when choosing exposures. I have learned to look at light and shadow attentively with my senses to deepen my dialogue with time and place. This experience is then conveyed into my finished images that aim to awaken a deeper intuitive sense of the wonder of our world.
The physicist Adrian Dobbs proposed the existence of a fifth dimension. He saw it as a kind of "psychological time," in which the past, present and future co-exist. The Nobel Prize-winning scientist John Eccles proposed that certain parts of the brain are able "to access" impulses from this fifth dimension. I'm interested in how this correlates with what aborigines call the "dream-time," a realm of reality that exists in many traditional cultures around the world and is still present in Japan, but little talked about.
Pre-literate people have a deep intuitive understanding of these things. Their somatic experience of the environment goes beyond what we modern people have been acculturated to believe to be reality. We are taught about the three dimensions of space and the forth dimension of time. I am interested in the work of physicists who explore beyond these four-dimensions in their efforts to explain the broader nature of time.
For tens of thousands of years, if not longer, it was the role of the artist and visionary to access and articulate the realms of this fifth dimensional psychological time. In our modern myopic views of culture, we have grossly lost this sensibility. A fifth dimension of psychological time is something most people can not fathom, or simply romanticize. How can we access those intuitive nerve centers and give expression to deeper perceptions through photography?
The core of my photographic work is focused on the Asian view of time. I am interested in how East Asian perceptions of time have given inspiration to the visual arts of China, Korea and Japan. I use the wet plate collodion photographic process to explore these topics. The hands-on technique allows for more direct intuitive communication with both subject and place.
Very important is the ritual quality of the technique. Each negative is made in a darkroom tent that resembles the space inside a classic Japanese tea hut. Each negative requires the care and concentration of a tea master when making a bowl of tea.
In my landscape work I use local water drawn from the earth in the making and developing of my glass negatives. I may add a little dirt or sand to the negative to texture each image. Such techniques are borrowed from Japanese potters and painters to create a more resonant sense of place in which the images are produced.
The use of my hands is also vital in attaining an intuitive feel for place. My hands are my antennas; they connect me with the air and spirit of place. With my hands, eyes and heart moving together in a focused harmony, a deep subconscious connection occurs with nature. Sparks of serendipity occur. Nothing is artificial or contrived. Marvels of natural beauty can emerge with a suddenness that speaks to the intuitive realms of the heart. My images are small attempts to explore the dimensions of psychological dreamtime. I have come to see this realm is our universal heritage. I seek to illuminate and protect the wonder of our world.
An early encounter with light
A near death experience at the age of three awakened me to the awareness of light. I was with my father in a canoe on a remote lake in the mountains of North Carolina. The canoe capsized and suddenly I was sinking down into the cold darkness. Looking up I could the rays of sunlight glittering in the murky green water above me. I became enraptured byan indelible ecstasy looking at that light. As well, for the first time in my life I became aware of the infinite dimensions of space and time. It was an experience that lasted for only a few brief moments before my father’s hand reached down and pulled me up to the surface.
I wanted to stay longer in that vast world and explore those delicious sensations of light and cold darkness. That fascination continues with me now and fuels my obsession for image making.
My first camera
I picked up my first camera at the age of eleven to photograph t water puddles. I believed that the reflections in water puddles were portals into other realities. My challenge was to simply shift my way of seeing. From reflections, I turned to mirrors. Mirrors too can reveal a kind of magical entrance to another world. I learned from puddles and mirrors and then photography the potential for changing our perception of reality. Photographs have the power to reflect the photographer and viewers perception of the world, but also shift our field of vision beyond the local and the contemporary. I learned early on that photographs can show us new ways to question how we view and conceptualize reality.