From my home on Kyoto's oldest dairy farm I explore the people and places of Japan that transcend the contemporary. My photographic work is inspired by the ideas of Buckminster Fuller and Stewart Brand regarding our quickly changing relationship with time. In our individual lives, and as a society, we are experiencing a compression of time due to the acceleration of information technology. This is effecting our attention spans and our relationship with each other and the Earth in ways we are still coming to understand. My work is a part of this ongoing discussion and seeks to be a counterpoint to this rapid acceleration of culture that we are now experiencing. I ask questions about how we perceive time and cultural memory in the context of my adopted home of Japan.
In the realm of visual art, I am exploring art's original function as a conduit for transferring information from th e landscape. For tens of thousands of years artists were the sensitive recipients of the deep memories of the landscape and hereditary memory. I use the wet-plate collodion process in order to reawaken this sensibility. When making the exposures of my hand made glass negatives, I don't use a light meter; but decide the exposure by attentively looking at light with my five senses. I use local water and soil when making my glass negatives in a darkroom tent that I set up on site. The wet negative is like a canvass that I use various techniques I have adopted from ceramic artists and classical Japanese painters to create my personal style. Inspired by Zen painter's of the 13th-14th centuries, I also use esoteric Buddhist techniques to deepen my relationship with the places and people that I photograph.
These techniques that I've developed help me to deepen my dialogue with time and place. They allow me to slow down and work more intuitively. The images I create aim to awaken in the viewer a deeper sense of the wonder of our world.
An early encounter with light
I became sensitive to light after a near death experience at the age of three. I was in a wobbly canoe with my father on a remote lake in the pine forested tar hills of North Carolina. I don't know how the canoe capsized, but the feeling of being thrown into the green watery coldness is a vividly recurring memory.
As I sank down towards a dark coldness, I became enraptured by the beauty of the rays of sunlight glittering around me in the murky green water. I was experiencing the indelible ecstasy of light and life for the first time, if only for just a few brief moments. Sinking deeper into the cold darkness, the infinite dimensions of space and time filled me with awe. Time slowed down as I had my first encounter with ethereal beauty.
A few moment's later my father's arm reached down and pulled me up to the surface. I was startled by the rough grip of his hand pulling me upwards. I felt I had been taken too soon from that enraptured experience. I wanted to stay longer. I was left with a lingering desire to explore those delicious sensations of light and cold and darkness.
From that time onward I became obsessed with the flicker of sunlight. It continually reminded me of that sublime underwater world that I longed to return to. My obsession with that first encounter with light is expressed in all of my photographs.
I picked up my first camera at the age of eleven. I was fascinated with the reflections of water puddles. I was sure they could be portals into another realm of reality. If only we could shift our way of seeing. It is the same with mirrors. Mirrors reveal some kind of magic. Photographs are like mirrors. Photographs not only reflect a photographer's view of the world, but can also shift our field of vision beyond the local and the contemporary and show us new realms of approaching the question of what we conceptualize as reality.
Using Photography to Reconstruct Perceptions of Time and Place
I am interested in how photography can shift our perception of time and history. In my work as an artist I am working on themes that address our relationship with history. Having travelled the world and spent extensive time with pre-literate people, I have become acutely aware of how our sense of time and place is culturally influenced.
Pre-literate people have a deep intuitive understanding of these things. Their somatic experience of their 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. The astronomer V.A. Firsoff took Einstein's theories of relativity and hypothesized about the existence of elementary particles that travel beyond the fourth dimension. 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. 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. The Nobel Prize-winning scientist John Eccles in his work with neurons proposed that certain parts of the brain are able "to access" impulses from the fifth dimension. Has the burden of modern life and the necessity to process so much information with our pre-fontal brain caused those intuitive areas of the brain to go dormant?
In my work as an artist I am interested in this "native brain" sensibility. How can we access those intuitive nerve centers and give expression to their perceptions through photography? 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 psychological time. In our modern era, with our 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.
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 classical photographic process, called wet plate collodion to explore these topics. The hands-on process allows for more direct intuitive communication with both subject and place due to the necessity of making glass negatives on site. No light meter is used to choose exposure. It requires deeply looking at the qualities of light around a subject.
Very important is the ritual quality of the technique. Each negative is made in a darkroom tent that very much resembles the space inside a classic Japanese tea room. Making 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 the hands is also vital in attaining an intuitive feel for place. Our hands are our antennas; they connect us with the air and spirit of place. With our hands, eyes and heart moving together in a focused harmony, a deep subconscious connection occurs with nature. I write this from experience. Sparks of serendipity occur. Nothing is artificial or contrived. Marvels of natural beauty often emerge with an uncanny suddenness that speaks to the intuitive realms of the heart. These are my small attempts to explore the dimensions of psychological dreamtime. I have come to see this realm is our universal heritage. I offer my images as a way to illuminate and protect the wonder of our world.
Notes on Technique:
Regarding my techniques, I go beyond simple photographic image capture, by using various kinds of tarnished and distorted glass, odd chemical combinations and brush techniques to give more organic expression to my images. Through exploring the fluid quality of the wet plate collodion process, I play with deconstructing Japanese aesthetic principles of formality (shin, gyo, so). Because the images are made on site in a darkroom tent, I try to integrate as much of the actual environment as possible by using local spring water and objects found in the environment in making my images.
I am working with Asian ink painting and ceramic techniques in the wet plate collodion process to re-contextualize the boundaries of photographic expression. Inspired by the work of Zen and Taoism influenced Chinese and Japanese ink painters from the middle ages, I work with the collodion chemicals to achieve a melding of process and subject matter that give the images an often uncanny and other worldly beauty. To attain the intense concentration needed for the split second hand movements required to achieve these effects I use various sacred and somatic techniques to activate the subconscious powers in the brain.