When making my images I utilize traditional Japanese ceramic and painting techniques to explore new realms of creative expression that go beyond photographic image capture. This involves using brush techniques and unusual chemical combinations to achieve a melding of process and subject matter that give my images an aesthetic quality often associated with the work of Zen painters of the Song dynasty.
The fluid qualities of the classical wet plate collodion photographic process allows me to explore and deconstruct Japanese aesthetic concepts; such as the principle of formality, which is broken down as shin (真), gyo (行)、and so (草). With each image I consider how much of a formal representation I wish to present of the subject. I do this with specially prepared glass plate negatives that are made on site in a darkroom tent. I use tarnished glass plates along with local spring water, dust and dirt found nearby to deepen the organic relationship between the environment and the creative process.
Split-second hand movements with the chemicals and glass plates are needed to attain effective results. This requires an intense level of concentration and coordination of eye, hand and heart. Through years of experience with Japanese master craftsmen and Buddhist monks I am able to enter these heightened levels of concentration which the Japanese refer to as nakaima (中今), which translates as "being in the eternal present."
Viewers of my work may experience this when looking intently at my images.
For the final prints, which are usually collotype, or mineral pigment on handmade paper, I am working with Asian ink painting techniques to further re-contextualize the boundaries of Asian aesthetics and photographic expression.
My Work in Japan
Artists have been the transmitters of cultural memory in their communities for at least 80,000 years, if not much longer. Artists continue to offer us new ways to explore identity and our relationship with the world. I want to stress the role of art as a means to open us to a deeper somatic and intuitive experience of being alive.
In my work as an artist I am exploring all three of these facets of art. I am driven by an urge to discover the biological source of creativity. What is this instinct that drives us to create that lies beneath the web of memory that forms the matrix of our lives? How are our perceptions warped by our relationship with time? I use the wet-plate collodion process and special techniques that I've developed over the years to explore these questions.
From my home on Kyoto's oldest dairy farm I travel around Japan for my artistic projects. My subjects are people, places and objects that reflect my exploration of memory in the context of a cultural dialogue between time and place. Inspired by the work of Brian Eno and Stewart Brand I am asking questions about how we perceive time and its relationship with cultural memory. In our contemporary world we are experiencing an acceleration and compression of time. My work seeks to offer a counterpoint to this relationship with time.
The wet plate process allows me to slow down and work more intuitively. I don't use a light meter when choosing exposures for my hand made negatives. I prefer to attentively look at light and shadow with my senses to deepen the dialogue with time and place. This experience is then conveyed into my finished images.
The images I create aim to awaken a deeper intuitive sense of the wonder of our world.
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 deeper 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.
An early encounter with light
I became sensitive to light after a near death experience at the age of three. I was in a canoe with my father on a remote lake in the 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 continues as a vividly recurring memory.
As I sank down into the dark coldness, I was enraptured by the rays of sunlight glittering in the murky green water above me. There was an indelible ecstasy of light and life that I was experiencing for the first time. As I sank deeper into the cold darkness time was slowing down. I was becoming aware of the infinite dimensions of space and time, an experience that lasted for only a few brief moments.
The next thing I realized my father's arm was reaching down and pulling me violently up to the surface. The rough grip of his hand pulling me upward took me away from the peace I was experiencing. I felt I had been taken away too soon from that underwater rapture. I wanted to stay longer. The lingering desire to explore those delicious sensations of light and cold and darkness continues with me now.
That experience turned into an obsession with the flicker of sunlight. Flickering sunlight on water reminds me of that sublime underwater world that I long to return to. That obsession with that first encounter with light is found in many, if not all of my photographs.
My first camera
I picked up my first camera at the age of eleven and started photographing water puddles. I believed the reflections in water puddles could be magic portals into another dimension, if we could just shift our way of seeing. From reflections, I turned to mirrors. Mirrors too reveal a kind of magic other world. I learned that photographs are like puddles and mirrors. They not only reflect the photographer's view of the world, but can also shift our field of vision into a magic other world beyond the local and the contemporary. I learned early on that photographs can show us new realms of approaching the question of what we conceptualize as reality.