Wabi-Sabi metaphysics remind us all things are only ever and always emanating from, or in decline towards, 'nothingness'. We are only ever in an immeasurable spatial-temporal dynamic of the present. I am visualising Impermanence by thinking of it in terms of 'nothingness in the 'present time'. I am attempting to make photographs that transport the audience into a lost elemental world where wisdom can be drawn from nature-based spiritually. In this internal emotional state, we can philosophically reflect on the concepts in wabi-sabi found in nature. Learning to accept and embrace impermanence, imperfection, incompleteness promotes mental restoration and wellbeing by staying in the 'present'. Being in the 'present' resolves 'nothingness'. We can assess the reciprocity of our relationship with nature during precarious times. These are the core messages of my work. Below I have condensed all the concepts and theories which inform how, what, where, when and why I am making my photographs to visualise these messages. There are the human choices I have made to construct my work appropriately:

Spending Enough Time In Nature To Achieve An Objective / Straight Mindset: By spending enough time in nature, in solitude, one can move closer to seeing nature as it is, without cultural influence. After a time of being away from the cacophony, nature 'photographs itself', not as how one might pre-determine it should look.

'Objective' or 'Straight' Photography neutralizes Flusser's 'Program of the camera'. Evade the translation of representation into culture: Exclusion of context other than being of nature rather than about nature. Speak in an 'approximation' that talks around nature rather than specifically of it. Speak objectively, anonymously, whilst declaring and acknowledging subjectivity and lack of authority.

Visualising 'Present' Time Through (Objective) 'Eventless' Photographs: Eventless photos force us to be in the present because they are devoid of the chronology of a historic event - the date-line is removed. With no history or future, it can only live in the present. Photographing uneventful non-historic images, or what simply 'is' or what is simply 'being', is to photograph something in the 'present'. Devoid of context and event (defined by human cultural intellect) an image becomes objective. Eventless photographs undo time. Inadvertently, 'eventless' images challenge/react to the endless stream of uncontemplated, mass-consumed, unrespected and exhibitionistic digital images. Forces the audience to think about 'the photographed world' and 'the world photographed'. (Flusser's 'Programs').

Visualising 'Present' Time: Adding 'Duration' (Durée) to Objective and 'Eventless' Photographs: 'Present time' is not part of a chronology, it is part of a 'duration', (Durée as coined by Henri Bergson). Duration is concerned with the experience of time, not a chronological concept of time itself. Duration can only be experienced, not temporally (or spatially) measured. 'Eventless' photographs are duration, which only ever leaves us in the present. Duration is an experience in which reality and imagination co-exist. By contextualising time as duration, eventless photographs, make time tangible because they are living - they are consumed in the mind for the body. Duration is a perceptive experience of time - perception takes place in the present but is informed by memory, so, the past and the present merge into one subjective intuition. In the 'present' only the 'present' remains, there is nothing else.

Long 'Nocturnal' Exposures in Black and White:
• General rule is 'before the sun comes up or after the sun goes down'.
• Darkness is earth's true wilderness / Fear (accepting nothingness in solution to fear of inevitable consequence)
• Black and white is more true to photography than colour. The origin/source of photography is rooted in the light (white) and dark (black) of the 'optical theory'. Colour comes from chemical theory, the optical theory comes before the chemical process in the chain of events.
• Transference of light out of darkness has biblical connotations which links to the hermitage cells.
• Long shutter speeds further solidify 'visualising time'.

Visualising 'Impermenance' Through Wabi-Sabi in Nature:
• Murky, irregular, austere, decaying timeworn and weathered landscapes and patinas (rock, bone, earth, stone) carry traces of impermanence embedded in their surfaces.
• Eventless remote land and seascapes universally connect to the ultimate subject of impermanence - the earth.

Visualising 'Spiritual Connection To Nature' Through Hermitage Cells / Subtle Anonymous Human Presence:
• Represent 'Spiritual sanctuary from modern societies, weathered relics of human solitude embedded into the remote natural landscape'.
• The time-weathered surfaces of hermitages have become wabi-sabi - places where people once sought out spiritual sanctuary, away from society, have, over time, inadvertently become visual objects embodying the very thing they were built, or appropriated, to facilitate.
• Hermitage cells allude to a submissive human element.

'Fear Response' & 'Ancestral and Primal Universal Sources of Emotional Appeal':
• 4 established pictures patterns (William Mortensen) invoke 'ancestral sources of emotional appeal' to generate a primal universality through the 'impact' of 'the fear response'. The Fear Response is elicited visually by 4 pictures patterns: Dominant Mass, The Diagonal, The S-Curve, Triangles



Nic Shonfeld. 2021. Untitled from Interminable Chain work in progress.

In his essay on Awoiska Van Der Molen's work (Van Alphen, 2014), Ernst Van Alphen points to Flusser's point of that she works in black and white not because of nostalgia but because of the critical position that black and white is 'concrete' and thus 'true', not because the world is black and white but because photography's origins lay in 'optical theory'. He quotes Flusser: “black is the total absence of all oscillations contained in light, white the total presence of all the elements of oscillation” (Flusser, 2000:42) to explain that: 'Black and white photographs are images of concepts that belong to the theory of optics, they are generated by that theory. Black-and-white photographs are beautiful because of the beauty of the conceptual universe'.

Stanley Wolukau-Wanambwa points out: 'In chemistry, the term phosphorescence describes a circumstance in which energy absorbed by an object is released slowly in the form of light, in a process analogous to the receptive activities of a photographic exposure' (Wolukau-Wanambwa, 2014). Van Alphen asserts that whilst colour photographs share concepts of black and white photographs, they 'veil its theoretical origin' because colour photographs come from an (invisible) chemical theory rather than the optical theory - photography is optical first and chemical second. “The ‘more genuine’ the colours of the photograph become, the more untruthful they are, the more they conceal their theoretical origin” (Flusser, 2000:42).

Black and white photos make you aware it is a photo, unlike colour when people read too much into them as truths. In my approach of photographing in low light or moonlight, the longer than conventional exposures make apparent that the lighter areas of the image are only possible because of this photographic process. Low light tends not to cast any shadows and as such, these type of images become a paradox in conventional ways of seeing, which as Wolukau-Wanambwa poetically states: '...awakens us to the mysterious difference of a nocturnal life that seems to breathe in the steady cadence of light passing from a celestial and utterly untraceable distance'. The lightness comes out of the darkness through a process of photographic time, this can be seen as a metaphor for the biblical tropes of light out of darkness.

Darkness, like religion it might be argued, is a human construct - many creatures can see perfectly well at night. This highlights the vulnerable limits of human capacity. Wolukau-Wanambwa points to Giorgio Agamben's essay What Is the Contemporary? (2009)“The absence of light activates a series of peripheral cells” which “produce the particular kind of vision that we call darkness... a product of our own retina.” Agamben concludes that therefore darkness as a concept is only intelligible within the narrow confines of our own optical capacity, and not an immutable register with which to measure the shape and nature of the world. (Wolukau-Wanambwa, 2014).

Fig.2: Paul Graham, American Night 1998 - 2002

In his essay Phosphorescence: Awoiska van der Molen’s Sequester (2014), Wolukau-Wanambwa compares Paul Graham's In American Night (fig.2) work to Awoiska van der Molen's. Graham's work challenges conventional printing methods with his high-key images which reject the traditional methods of using dark and shadows to reflect poverty and deprivation, instead he 'inverts' the expression of class disparity. By contrast, van der Molen's 'landscapes' lead us to: "know it differently and perhaps in a manner that no longer presumes our own pre-eminence. Her photographs gradually and cumulatively reveal the untroubled stillness, grace and complexity of a world undeniably indifferent to our hopes, if presently vulnerable to our numerous interventions." Van der Molen's images reveal a world invented by the 'human compression of time' to 'a sense of animate life unlinked to human activity', and by way of association and shared characteristics, this is what I hope my photographs also allude to.

Agamben, Giorgio. 2009. “What Is the Contemporary?” from What is an Apparatus? and Other Essays, trans. David Kishik and Stefan Pedatella. Stanford University Press.

Flusser, Vilém. 2000. Towards a Philosophy of Photography. Translated by A. Mathews. London: Reaktion Books

Van Alphen, Ernst. 2014. Time Saturation: The Photography of Awoiska Van Der Molen. Published in ‘De Witte Raaf’, Belgium. March 2014. Awoiska Van Der Molen [online] Available at: https://www.awoiska.nl/var/upload/essay_alphen_nu.pdf [Accessed on: 26.08.21]

Wolukau-Wanambwa, Stanley. 2014. Phosphorescence: Awoiska van der Molen’s Sequester. Published online at 'The Great Leap Sideways' - New York 2014. Awoiska van der Molen [online] Available at: https://www.awoiska.nl/var/upload/writing_stanley_wolukau.pdf [accessed: 30.08.21]



Screen Capture from Earth At Night In Colour, OffSpring FIlms, 2020.

I've been watching a recent nature series titled Earth At Night In Colour (2020) by Off Spring Films. It is a remarkable series in which camera's that are 100 times more sensitive than the human eye record footage of wildlife at night. As the cameras are so sensitive they can record by moonlight alone almost as if it were shot in daylight. The footage reveals aspects of nature that have never been recorded before but also of behaviour that nature experts were unaware of. The opening introduction announces the show capturing the earth at night in 'Earth's last true wilderness'. I am trying to reach somewhere in nature far away from human touch in my photographs. Earth's natural wilderness has all but been recorded, there is nothing left to photograph, we have covered the globe, except the depths of the oceans, but at night, the darkness hasn't quite been captured. Darkness is the wilderness and it is uncultured and untamed, it is also fear. Thinking about fear in terms of nature at night is a new way of thinking about my work. We can't see in the dark, animals can, this speaks of a limiting.

Darkness, like religion it might be argued, is a human construct as humans have a low sensitivity to light, many creatures can see perfectly well at night. Wolukau-Wanambwa points to Giorgio Agamben's essay What Is the Contemporary? (2009) in which an answer to the question “What happens when we find ourselves in a place deprived of light?” he states: “The absence of light activates a series of peripheral cells” which “produce the particular kind of vision that we call darkness”. So in fact “darkness is not, therefore, a privative notion but rather the result of the activity of the “off-cells,” a product of our own retina.” Agamben concludes that therefore darkness as a concept is only intelligible within the narrow confines of our own optical capacity, and not an immutable register with which to measure the shape and nature of the world. (Wolukau-Wanambwa, 2014). This highlights the vulnerable limits of human capacity.

I photograph at night, early in the morning, or at least in low light, usually with relatively long exposure times - longer than conventional shutters speeds in daylight, long enough to need a tripod that is. My general rule is 'before the sun comes up or after the sun goes down', sans solaire, in this respect, I am starting to refer to my photographs as 'nocturnal'. It is not always possible, or safe, to reach the places I want to photograph at night so I monitor the Met Office and photograph those places when the weather is poor. It feels instinctively right, there is something more primordial and wild about low light, as opposed to stark daylight where nothing is mysterious and there is no element of fear. In a previous post, I spoke about the influence of William Mortenson's strategies for making pictures based on concepts of 'primal, universal and ancestral fear' in my work.

The polarity of lightness and darkness, or rather, the photographic strategy of transforming darkness into light, makes it difficult not to think about religion - the transformation of dark into light is the very essence of Christian faith, which is already playing a role in my work with photographs of hermitage cells and oratory's signifying contemplation in solitude and away from society in nature.

Wolukau-Wanambwa, Stanley. 2014. Phosphorescence: Awoiska van der Molen’s Sequester. Published online at 'The Great Leap Sideways' - New York 2014. Awoiska van der Molen [online] Available at: https://www.awoiska.nl/var/upload/writing_stanley_wolukau.pdf [accessed: 30.08.21]]



Fig.1: Daniel Gustav Cramer, from Trilogy (2003-2007)

Alan Sukula reminds us that ‘A photograph is an utterance…a message. However, the definition also implies that the photograph is an ‘incomplete’ utterance, a message that depends on some external matrix of conditions and presuppositions for its readability. That is, the meaning of any photographic message is necessarily context-determined’ (Sekula, 1982:85). The busy, abstract, square images in Daniel Gustav Cramer’s Trilogy (2003-2007) look like crops – The eye is forced to engage but there is no room for it to wander, the images force the audience to consider what is outside of the frame in search of the narrative. Indeed, Cramer stated himself: “The camera seems the perfect medium to relate visually to nature. It brings with it a technical neutrality, recording what is there, while actually being a tool of exclusion.” (Cramer in Parisi, 2010:58), in doing to, Cramer essentially declares the work about photography at least on an equal setting with the theme of nature.

Triolgy evades context, the images are of nature rather than about nature: and by doing so the images inadvertently also become about photography as a medium: “In a strange way, this detached gaze opens a back door into the nonhuman world, turning us into distant relatives. It is, even more, the case as works are not about landscape or nature, but images of it. A picture of nature relates to an origin, something from a different time. … Using photography to document nature as an abstractum is working so well because the medium connects us with what we can see with our own eyes and, at the same time, it excludes a part of reality, the one that remains outside the picture. Therefore, nature presents itself as real and abstract.” (Cramer in Parisi, 2010:56).

Cramer's images spatially exclude culture and by alluding to a non-human world, a pre-human world. In the spatial dimension of Triolgy, past and present co-exist in a single present perception akin to the temporal dimension Bergson calls Durée (Duration). According to Bergson, similar to 'Duration', spatial dimensions cannot be measured or itemized, they are not geometrical. They are both rooted in subjective experience (in present time), and as such, they carry different meanings to different people: 'Our relation to space develops according to a ‘natural feeling’. So, like duration, space cannot be itemized or measured... he (Bergson) calls space an extension emanated from the subject' (Van Alphen, 2014).

The term landscape is an ambiguous paradoxical human construct where cultural representation and the external world co-exist: 'The term landscape indicates a humanized relationship to nature, whether this relationship is one of dominion, of self-affirmation through the conquest of nature, or, on the contrary, a desire to transcend and efface the self in the face of nature, as what we since Kant call “the sublime”. Both attitudes spring from a fundamental discontentment with the limitations of human embodied existence. Attempts to separate the two appearances of landscape – as outside and as representation – are themselves imbricated in such conceptions, in either attitude just mentioned or in the paradox of their coexistence' (Bal in Van Alphen, 2014).

The photographs of Daniel Gustav Cramer and Awoiska van der Molen evade translations of cultural representation by excluding any context other than being of nature rather than about nature. In my work, this is not quite the case because there are hints at spiritual culture in the hermitage cells. Does this lessen the neutrality of my images and position them into the realms of representation? Does that make my images about nature as opposed to being of nature? I would argue my images are commenting on the humanised relationship with nature (about nature) with images that are of nature.

Parisi, Chiara. 2010. Daniel Gustav Cramer. Klat Magazine, #04. [online] Available at: http://www.danielgustavcramer.com/pdfs/klat-parisi-cramer.pdf [accessed on 08.04.21]

Sukula, Alan. 1982. On the Invention of Photographic Meaning. In Burgin, Victor (ed.). Thinking Photography. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Van Alphen, Ernst. 2014. Time Saturation: The Photography of Awoiska Van Der Molen. Published in ‘De Witte Raaf’, Belgium. March 2014. Awoiska Van Der Molen [online] Available at: https://www.awoiska.nl/var/upload/essay_alphen_nu.pdf [Accessed on: 26.08.21]



Fay Godwin, 1990. The Duke of Westminster’s Estate, Forest of Bowland.

The term landscape is an ambiguous paradoxical human construct where cultural representation and the external world co-exist. In Arjen Mulder's essay Larger Than Light, he talks about two different types of 'landscape' photography. First, the subjective majority view, 'La nature du spectacle', where photographers depict nature how they think it should look: 'The photographer’s task is to scan Nature through the viewfinder for as long as it takes, until the virtual picture coincides with the observed one...The projected image of what Nature is expected to look like...'. This type of photography is problematic in relation to ethical representations of the land. We can think about Flusser's apprehensions of the 'program of the camera', and we can also think about the all-conquering, heroic, privileged male gaze (see Fig.2) that Deborah Bright gave a beating to in Of Mother Nature and Malboro Men (1985): “The image of the lone, male photographer-hero, like his prototypes, the explorer and hunter, venturing forth into the wilds to capture the virgin beauty of Nature, is an enduring one.” (Bright, 1985) and Fay Godwin's 'wariness of the picturesque' (Godwin, 1986) and disdain for the 'nothingness of postcard photography', where ideologies and representations of the land are questionable.

Fig.2: Ansel Adams, 1938. Cathedral Peak and Lake, Yosemite National Park.

Secondly, the minority view - 'straight photography' where photographs are not constructed, they are taken objectively without any pre-existing ideas of representation - the photographer attempts to remove all traces of themselves. Essentially, the opposite of 'La nature du spectacle', it is photographing as is, so to speak, or around something, in approximation, as opposed to speaking for it. These photographs are free from the symptoms of Flusser's 'programs'; in 'straight' photography, nature projects itself onto the lens. 'Nature photographing itself' aligns with Flusser's call to 'play against the camera'. Let something photograph itself without a predetermined representation outcome. However, Flusser also says to focus on information: 'one can show contempt for the camera by turning away from it as a thing and focusing instead, on information' (Flusser,2000), information is still unreliable because of the flaws in its human author, but regardless, the 'information' in my images is its 'eventlessness' and 'nothingness' in present time. More about my work and Flusser's programs here.

Referencing 'romantische naturphilosophie' Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling (1775-1854), Mulder also refers to straight photography as 'perhaps, Divine' photography. Schelling, without ever quantifying what divine means, stated: ‘The first thing you need to understand about reality is that it is divine’. Nature is an experience, it is not measurable. Mulder asserts that: 'the divine is an experience rather than a concept, a revelation rather than an intellectual construct'. Parallels can be drawn through the defining experience-based qualities of the 'divine' and Bergson's experience-based notion of time - 'Duration', which heavily informs my work. Both the 'Divine' and 'Duration' are based on immeasurable spatial-temporal dimensions of experience, which because of perception, only ever lives in the present.

Awoiska van der Molen. 2014. #351-7 from Sequester.

Mulder is of course writing in the context of Awoiska van der Molen's work (his essay is in van der Molen's Blanco, 2017), and poetically explains her strategies for reaching objectivity in her 'perhaps, Divine' photographs of nature: 'Spending fourteen whole days and nights, or longer, on your own in a rocky valley under the open skies, in wild, barely organised nature...Walking, seeing, sleeping, not talking for weeks. Tearing yourself apart, picking off the crust of humanity obstructing your gaze, coming to terms with your insignificance yet sharpening your senses. Ready to receive, as you wander around, lost in the landscape, gradually and reluctantly breaking down your internal barriers all the while.' By spending enough time in nature, only when the photographer has effaced oneself 'so completely as to become part of what is happening', one can start to see the divinity of nature as it is, without influence.

Attempting 'Straight' nature photography is photographing objectively through subjectivity. I am photographing what simply 'is', and devoid of event. The objectivity of nature as is and in the context of 'present' time, solidifies the universal recognisability of the image.

Bergson, Henri. 1896. Matter and Memory, trans. N.M. Paul and W.S. Palmer. New York: Zone Books, 1991.

Bright, Deborah. 1985. Of Mother Nature and Marlboro Men. In Exposure 23:4 Winter 1985 pp 5–18. Medium [online] Available at: https://medium.com/exposure-magazine/re-exposure-of-mother-nature-and-marlboro-men-201dc897fc6c [accessed on 21.02.21]

Flusser, Vilém. 2000. Towards a Philosophy of Photography. Translated by A. Mathews. London: Reaktion Books

Godwin, Fay. 1986. The South Bank Show. Online Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WJR_UJnry8s [accessed: 22.08.21]

Mulder, Arjen. 2017. Larger Than Light. Published in ‘Blanco’ by Awoiska van der Molen. Available at: https://www.awoiska.nl/var/upload/essay_mulder_nl_eng.pdf [accessed: 22.08.21]



In my post relating to Ernst Van Alphen's essay Time Saturation: The Photography of Awoiska Van Der Molen (2014), it became apparent that my images are related to Henri Bergson's notions of 'Duration' - time as 'experience', not as a historical or chronological concept defined by events. 'Eventless Photos' and 'Duration' dictate we are only always ever in 'present' time. Van Alphen's continues his essay by thinking about how Duration, or 'an experience of present time' or 'an experience of present nothingness' as I am thinking of it, can become tangible in certain photographic conditions.

Awoiska van der Molen, #245-18, silver gelatin print

Van Alphen asserts that because of Roland Barthes famous assertion that photography 'fixes time' (Barthes,1980), we commonly think about photographs as something from the past being viewed in the present - 'fixed' within a sequential chronology of time. This implies that time is linear and can be measured. In this temporal dimension, our sensibilities are made aware of time passing as it moves from the present into the past and then back again into the present. Barthes reflects on an old portrait of two young girls, he comments on the ‘catastrophe’ and 'defeat of time' inherent to all photographs (in Barthes world, photography predicts death), yet he paradoxically remarks on the same page 'how alive!' the two girls look in the photograph (Barthes,1984:96).

Barthes is intrigued that a photograph 'defers time', in that it shows something 'dead' and 'alive' co-existing in the present moment, but not as a sequential narrative. A different temporal dimension, or experience, is alluded to in which different temporal dimensions exist next to each other, as opposed to as a sequential narrative. Val Alphen points to Henri Bergson's concept of durée, or 'duration': 'in which different temporal dimensions exist next to each other...Duration concerns an experience of time instead of a conceptualization of time as chronology. This experience does not allow temporal distinctions or divisions; in this experience, time cannot be measured objectively.'

'Duration' is subjective because it is experience-based, it is qualitative. Experience is based on 'perception' (representation) and memory, and memory and perception are based on 'selection'. Following Bergson thought, Van Alphen asserts: 'perception is not a construction but a selection the subject makes on the basis of his/her own interests... For a long time representation was considered in terms of mimesis, understood as imitation, or in terms of its opposite: construction. But if perception, and in consequence, also representation is selection, the emphasis shifts from the object to the subject of perception' (Van Alphen, 2014).

Although perception takes place in the present, it is informed by memory, and as such, the past and the present merge and co-exist in one present subjective intuition, not as a sequential narrative: 'In concrete perception memory intervenes, and the subjectivity of sensible qualities is due precisely to the fact that our consciousness, which begins by being only memory, prolongs a plurality of moments into each other, contracting them into a single intuition'. (Bergson, 1991:60). Van Alphen reminds us that in Bergsonian thought, time is indivisible and constantly subject to change so this co-existence of past memory and present perception does not consist of specific moments - 'it concerns different temporal dimensions such as present and past, which can only be experienced at the same time, in relation to each other.' (Van Alphen, 2014).

Van Alphen argues that Awoiska Van Der Molen's photographs are the embodiment of Bergson's durée: 'The landscapes of Van der Molen are in no way to be understood as representations of time, as the exact time of their being taken seems to have been cancelled. The landscapes open themselves up for the experience of time because while looking at them there is only a present that never stops: we remain in that present.' (Van Alphen, 2014). In the present and only the present, there is nothing else. Duration is qualitative and in this way makes time tangible. Eventless photographs in the context of duration become tangible because they force us to remain in the experience of present time. Present time is experiential, and experience is a co-existence of memory and perception. Perception, according to Bergson, is 'an act performed by the body and for the body'. The body is a 'true body-subject with its own desires' (Mullarkey, 1993:119). Bergson wrote explicitly of an 'intelligence of the body' and a 'logic of the body' (Bergson, 1896:137) and moreover, what he calls 'bodily memory' (ibid. p197). This act of perception is lived only in the present time.

Barthes, Roland. 1984. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. Translated by Richard Howard. London: Fontana.
Batchen, Geoffrey. 2010. “Life and Death”, in Suspending Time: Life-Photography-Death. Shizuoka: Izu Photo Museum.
Bergson, Henri. 1896. Matter and Memory, trans. N.M. Paul and W.S. Palmer. New York: Zone Books, 1991.
Mullarkey, John. 1993. Bergson and Perspectivism. The University of Warwick.
Van Alphen, Ernst. 2014. Time Saturation: The Photography of Awoiska Van Der Molen. Published in ‘De Witte Raaf’, Belgium. March 2014. Awoiska Van Der Molen [online] Available at: https://www.awoiska.nl/var/upload/essay_alphen_nu.pdf [Accessed on: 26.08.21]



Tehching Hsieh, One Year Performance 1980-1981. Performance, New York.

Ernst Van Alphen's essay titled Time Saturation: The Photography of Awoiska Van Der Molen (2014) provides answers to questions I have about ways of visualising 'time'. I am specifically trying to visualise 'present' time. Van Alphen starts his essay discussing photography's problematic relationship with capturing spatial and temporal dynamics:'the temporal dimension of photography is minimal – the proverbial flash ... The moving images of film do exactly what photography is unable to do: to fixate the continuity of time.' However, Van Alphen suggests we end up in a different temporal dimension when looking at van der Molen's images - one of 'duration' as opposed to a chronological flash of 'eventhood'. He quotes Adrian Heartfield's distinction between 'extended duration' and 'eventhood' to explain photography is predominately used to fixate a 'temporality of events' or 'unique moments' from which its history is readable from that one given moment: "Extended duration lacks the distinction that separates the event from the mundane, the everyday: the bracketing off and casting out of experience into the domain of the “uneventful” through which the event, as heightened experience, must necessarily be constituted.' (Heartfield, 2009:22). So, 'eventless' photographs in the context of 'duration' signify 'present time'.

Van Alphen subscribes to Henri Bergson's concept of durée (duration) - an experience of time as opposed to a way of conceptualising it. Heartfield explains durée as: 'Duration deals in the confusion of temporal distinctions – between past, present and future – drawing the spectator into the thick braids of paradoxical times. […] One might say, then, that duration nearly always involves the collapse of objective measure. Whether it is short or long in ‘clock time’, its passage will be marked by a sense of the warping of time, an opening of regularity to other phenomena or inchoate orders. Duration will often be accompanied by the spatial sense of expansion, suspension or collapse or by reverential, chaotic or cosmic phenomena, as notions of temporal distinctions are undone. Time arises in the experience of duration, in its indivisibility and its incapacity to become an object of thought, analysis or representation.' (Heartfield, 2009:22). Durée is not concerned with what time is, rather the way it is experienced - Duration is a 'phenomenology of time'.

Wabi-Sabi metaphysics remind us all things are only ever and always emanating from, or in decline towards, 'nothingness'. We are only ever in an immeasurable spatial-temporal dynamic of the 'present'. Eventless images can be seen as an 'undoing' of time - they talk about what simply is, and what is being in their relation to time, as opposed to specific, unique, historical moments. Similar to Awoiska van der Molen's work, my images have no visual context and they are devoid of event. The lack of context and event dictates they have no affinity with the chronologically measured temporality of unique moments. They are only ever in the 'present'. I am visualising Impermanence by thinking of it in terms of 'nothingness in the 'present time'.

'None can deny that present time lacks any extension because it passes in a flash. Yet attention is continuous, and it is through this that what will be present progresses towards being absent. So the future, which does not exist, is not a long period of time. A long future is a long expectation of the future. And the past, which has no existence, is not a long period of time. A long past is a long memory of the past.' (Augustinus in Van Alphen, 2014).

Bergson, Henri. 1896. Matter and Memory, trans. N.M. Paul and W.S. Palmer. New York: Zone Books, 1991.

Heartfield, Adrian. 2009. “Thought of Duration”, in Heathfield (ed.), Out of Now: The Lifeworks of Tehching Hsieh. Cambridge MA: MIT Press.

Tehching Hsieh. [online] Available at: https://www.tehchinghsieh.com/doing-time

Van Alphen, Ernst. 2014. Time Saturation: The Photography of Awoiska Van Der Molen. Published in ‘De Witte Raaf’, Belgium. March 2014. Awoiska Van Der Molen [online] Available at: https://www.awoiska.nl/var/upload/essay_alphen_nu.pdf [Accessed: 26.08.21]

Van Der Molen, Awoiska. [online] Available at: https://www.awoiska.nl



I don't think I am alone in saying that the printing and presentation methods of Japanese collotype specialists Benrido Atelier are exemplary. It is through following Benrido that I have been able to learn more about contemporary interpretations of traditional Japanese bookbinding and portfolio presentation. Like countless others, I am hooked on different techniques of photo book and presentation production and it is this part of the output of my project that I get really excited about. I plan to hand-make a presentation portfolio case/box similar to the example below produced by Benrido Atelier.

Fig.1: Martin Gusinde, Tierra Del Fuego 1918-1924. Portfolio box produced by Benrido Atelier

It is my plan to hand produce a limited number of presentation box portfolio's which will include the full complement of the project work. This will include a copy of the printed publication, an envelope of hand-printed silver gelatin fibre based prints and a USB memory device with the transition based slide show. To make each portfolio unique, I want to include a found object which I have collected on my travels into the Cornish wilderness, for example, a feather or a stone.

Fig.5: Munemasa Takahashi. 2015. Laying Stones. Special Edition Presentation Box Set.

The production of this will need to be meticulously planned. I have relative experience in making stab-bound books with hardcovers and have invested over the years in equipment for book-making. I feel quite confident that I will be able to produce portfolio cases to a high standard. I envisage where I am going to need to experiment most will be trying to facilitate an area in which I can secure the USB memory stick - something like the inset of the box-sets above (fig.4 and 5) is maybe the answer to this. I am really looking forward to this whole process. I would like to produce maybe 5-10 copies of this. I like the idea of being able to give a couple away to people that have helped me with project (family, friends and mentors), I would like to be able to sell a couple and also actually use one of them as an actual portfolio which I can use to show prospective clients and agencies.



Fig.1: Nadav Kander, In The End Is The Beginning. Towards The Thames Estuary. Installation, Estuary 2021 Art Exhibition.

Since seeing online pictures of Nadav Kander's In The End Is The Beginning. Towards The Thames Estuary (an outdoor installation comprising of a triptych from his ongoing series Dark Line - The Thames Estuary), I have been thinking about how I could install some of my images where I took them and why I would want to do that. As many of my images are taken in remote spaces, I like the idea of ramblers and dog walkers coming across a random art installation. In my mind, the images would be printed with liquid emulsion onto acrylic-glass and positioned at the point where I took the photo so the audience would be able to 'line themselves up' the same as I did - this could prompt the audience to consider the landscape as both 'as is' and as a photograph - not quite the 'impermanent land made permanent', a photograph is not permanent but it is static. The work becomes about photography, and time, as well as nature. Kander refers to this in the statement for his installation: "..this work implies a passage of time, in contrast to our own. The life of the River Thames; flowing before, then into my frame and forever beyond.  I’m drawn to making work that bears witness to the river and to time. Yet the photograph is static, while referring to the world and nature beyond its edges. It conjures images of destiny; it invokes the past and points to the future." (Kander, 2021).

Fig.2: Awoiska van der Molen, 2021, Thousands a Second a Year - Material test

More recently, Awoiska van der Molen started posting some installation images for Into Nature / Drenthe art expedition. Into Nature is an art safari through the Drenthe landscape where one can cycle and walk to view works by international artists. The artist statement on the Into Nature website states: 'To emphasize the intangible connection with the nature of the Bargerveen, Van der Molen has printed her photographs on glass, so that the image and the existing natural environment flow into one another, as it were. And although we see here 'the Bargerveen on the Bargerveen' and are thus clearly connected to a place, we see more than that: a horizon behind the horizon, a mysterious reflection over the landscape, similar to so-called Witte Wieven, patches of fog, regularly floating by in the Drenthe landscape'.

So, both Nadav Kander and Awoiska van der Molen are layering images with the real world and are both about what is felt, an essence through experience, but not truly visible - For Awoiska van der Molen, and my own work, it is about the physical experience of being in nature. van der Molen says of this work in the artist statement: "When you spend a long time alone in a quiet landscape, far away from the hectic modern world, our deepest intuition recognizes our original territory: unspoiled nature, with its rhythms on which the physical system is built”. The idea of connecting with the land and fusion with nature (and learning from it) that van der Molen is talking about here are the core aspects of my project. Thinking about Nadav Kander and Awoiska van der Molen's work has made me think about how my work is not a document of my mini-expeditions around Cornwall, it is a visualised extraction, an essence and approximation, of my experience.

Fig.3: Awoiska van der Molen, 2021, Thousands a Second a Year - Installation image on artists Instagram story.

Nadav Kander's work on glass seems cast into blocks of concrete and Awoiska van der Molen has used glass bolted into railway sleepers which have been bolted deep down into the ground. Cornwall is very blustery and I wonder how I would go about fabricating something on a slightly smaller scale that would hold up in the elements. Will it actually work as an experience unless the image is of a certain size? I need to think about strategies for printing onto acrylic glass, with liquid emulsion. Moreover, I need to think about where I would position these installations and approach Cornwall council and other relevant authorities in relation to working with them to gain permission to temporarily install the work. It's a lot to think over and maybe it will come to nothing, I have another idea for a different type of installation which I will write about in a separate post soon.




Thinking beyond, and in addition to, making a printed publication of my work, I am contemplating about how else I could appropriately present my work. A few modules back in my degree with a different body of work, I started to make a slideshow of the images which employed various transitions by which the images would flow and link to each other. I shelved the idea at the time as I turned to different ways of presenting the work, however, I feel like this strategy could be appropriate for this project - fast flickers and flashes of imagery in film lend themselves to the suggestion of 'fleetingness', and thus 'impermanence' - which is a key underlying aspect of this work.

Fig,1: Sarker Protick, 2020. Rasmi/Ray - Installation view.

This strategy came about having stumbled upon Sarker Protick's 2017 - 2020 work Raśmi/Ray, which can be seen here. Whilst the impetus for Protick's work is borne out of something very different, the 'transitions' are a great example of what I am suggesting with my own work. Actually, whilst the impetus is different, there are some shared meanings; the statement on Protick's website (here) states the following:

'Raśmi (a ray of light in Bangla) is an arrangement of images and soundscapes, materialising as a video projection. Ingrained in an experience of loss and grief, the work explores the ideas of personal truth and fiction, with its pretext being non-geographical, a non-place and yet universal in its stimulation. Intertwined with the images, the immersive soundscape works almost as a narration of the sequence. This light which is almost omnipotent throughout Sarker’s depiction of the objects – as those of the cosmos – creates situations as lucid as it can get in its meaning. Anchoring it further in its universality, is the recurring presence of the circular form photographed from varying vantage points, empty or hollow and at times illuminated at a distance.'

I am particularly drawn to the mentions of firstly non-place and universal stimulation, and secondly, the recurring presence of the circular form. In my own images, the idea of non-place is starting to emerge - my images are taken in Cornwall but as I move forward with my work, it has become less about showing recongnisable ancient sites more about universally recognisable, and stimulating, elements that define it, for example rocks, wood, ocean. The presence of the circular form mentioned in Protick's statement makes me think back to Zen Buddhist concepts which continue to inform the context in which I am addressing nature.

Fig.2: A Zen 'open' Enso (円相) circle. (Artist unknown).

The use of a round symbol (called 'enso' / 円相) expresses a version of wabi-sabi. A perfect circle created in one infinite motion is always in motion and never idle. The open version of an enso has both an end and beginning, which reminds us that everything has a start, finish and can symbolise imperfections in existence. In this we can reflect that all things, for a brief moment in time, exist, however imperfect they may be; a brief momentary ‘life’ within a much broader timeline of many lifetimes. To find an understanding of the true nature of our positions within the universe includes embracing one's imperfections. I like the idea of incorporating the imperfect 'enso' circle into the design of my work in a subtle capacity, it is something that could be woven into the printed publication I will produce, and mirrored in the slideshow.

Fig,4: Sarker Protick, 2020. Rasmi/Ray - Installation view.

The narrative audio used in Protick's slideshow is interesting to me - I am not sure whether it dictates the pace and transitional moments in the film, or the images were arranged first and then the audio was synched accordingly. I have been making sound recordings of the places I have been visiting and will use these to narrate my own film. Whilst I have a basic knowledge of sound recording, I am going to work with a sound engineer friend of mine to maximise the potential manipulation of the sounds and also to ensure the quality of this aspect of my work.

Fig.1: Sarker Protick, 2020. Rasmi/Ray. Installation view. Available at: https://sarkerprotick.com/Rasmi-Ray
Fig.2: Artist unknown. Open Zen Enso circle. Online Available at: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/261982903311778706/
Fig.3: Sarker Protick, 2020. Rasmi/Ray. Available at: https://sarkerprotick.com/Rasmi-Ray
Fig.4: Sarker Protick, 2020. Rasmi/Ray. Installation view. Available at: https://sarkerprotick.com/Rasmi-Ray

Protick, Sarker. 2017-2020. Rasmi/Ray. Sarker Protick online. Available at: https://vimeo.com/433619752



Fig.1: My makeshift bedroom darkroom 🙂

A huge impetus for embarking on my MA degree was about re-engaging with photography after admittedly going through a prolonged period of really not particularly enjoying it and all but throwing the towel in after a couple of decades of proverbial art vs commerce wrestle. I don't really feel the need to elaborate on that too much but suffice to say I am determined to enjoy this project - part of that re-engagement includes dusting off the enlarger and setting my darkroom up again so I can make some prints.

Fig.2: Linen 'button and string' document envelopes.

The idea I have as it stands is to make a small edited selection of images from the wider body of work. I am predominantly thinking about traditional silver gelatin prints on fibre based paper stock, although there is a multitude of alternative processes which I am going to consider over the next couple of months. I guess at the moment I am thinking about a more generic traditional approach as being the source, the original way of printing, which essentially marries with one of the concepts behind my project being about a 'return to the source'. The prints will be signed, stamped and packaged in traditional Japanese linen 'button and string' document envelopes, quite simply because they are high quality, black compliments my images and look stylish. I would like to sell packs of the prints on my website to help recuperate some of the costs of this project and to contribute to my next project.



Fig.1: Nic Shonfeld. 2020. Detail of Fools Gold stab bound publication.

The Photobook Sessions web conference held by the Kraszna-Krausz Foundation and Camberwell College of Arts which was guest curated by Lewis Chaplin and Sarah Piegay Espenon of Loose Joints, and included photographers they had published such as Mårten Lange. There was also an interesting talk by Bruno Ceschel of Self Publish Be Happy who administered a more wary outlook on the future of photobook publishing - essentially saying that there is no money in it and how his platform was looking at alternative methods of publishing, which, to me, seemed to boil down to online publishing (which I consider something one would do in accompaniment of an actual physical object). Cashel pointed out how many established publishers were not putting out photobooks anymore and leaving it a small core of dedicated photobook publishers such as Steidl simply due to costs.

This made me think about an interview with Simon Norfolk on the A Small Voice podcast. The crux of Norfolk's argument is that photobooks self-perpetuate in their own limited and likeminded circles, and the production of photobooks are simply and only 'vanity publishing no different to an author paying someone to publish their book... who can afford to pay £40-£60 for a coffee table book? Just middle class people like yourself' (Norfolk, 2019). If going to make a niche or academically informed book probably this is true, as opposed to making something that lends itself to a wider commercial audience, like a book of pretty landscapes. Over the years I have heard it bandied about countless times how publishers would want an artist to from the first £20,000 of the print run, not unlike music bands and models needing to have 20,000 social media followers before a label or agency would be interested in signing them.

Martin Masai Anderson. 2020. Tottenham Hotspur v Liverpool (0–3), 31st Aug, 2014 from Can't Smile Without You.

A dear friend of mine, Martin Masai Anderson recently self published Can't Smile Without You - A photo documentary following the fans of Tottenham Hotspur football club home and away between 2013 and 2017. I'm sure Martin wouldn't mind me alluding to that he essentially gambled the money he had saved for the deposit on a house for his young family to finance the publication and it was a fair amount more than the standard £20,000 by the time he had paid for a designer, paid the prestigious Italian printers EBS and employed a publicist to ensure people knew about the book. It is great that Martin has now turned a profit on what was 5 years worth of personal investment in a project that he has no qualms in referring to as a 'passion project'. Of course, Martin could've used a less expensive and he could've designed the book himself however he argues that if he was going to do something like this he wanted to make it as high quality as possible and in relation to book design and editing, the sheer volume of images and being emotionally invested in so many of them, he needed a different set of eyes to eliminate that side of things. I guess what I find so interesting is that theoretically Martin has a huge immediate potential audience in that of the global support for not Tottenham Hotspur football club, but also football fans at large, not to mention further audiences such as within a cultural and academic fields but it still took well over a year to sell a few thousand copies. I don't see this a reflection on the quality of Martin's work and output, more that photobooks, priced at £45 are something of a luxury when push comes to shove these days.

I do think that, on one side of the coin, photobooks are self-indulgent vanity projects, and the market is saturated are far far too many low-quality examples, but I also firmly believe they have an unquestionable place not least to physically solidify an authors work. I have no shame it admitting after 20odd years as a photographer I would like to publish a monologue - in vain or otherwise, I want to be able to look back the work in a solid form, as opposed to on harddrives. I think there is a sense of completeness to the work having gone through the process of turning it into a book. I also believe by putting something tangible into peoples hands to reflect on has a slightly longer lasting impression that merely posting it online.

I have a fair amount of experience working with publishers on photo and illustrative reference publications and indeed the manufacturing costs are high but at the same time, I see many new small imprints popping up all the time (I have included many of them on my personal resources page on my website here) which produce smaller runs of cheaper made books - not everything has to have a linen cloth covered cover and printed on luxurious paper. In another A Small Voice podcast with Matthew Genitempo and Brian Schutmaat, who have recently co-founded Texas-based independent art book publisher, Trespasser, Matthew was asked, "what do you think the future of photobooks is?" He replied that he didn't know and that the interviewers guess would be as good as his, however, he states he firmly knew what he would like to see the future being - more small limited runs of handmade books, in which "the human touch is undeniable".

Photobooks are costly and arguably destructive in an eco capacity, but surely there are ways around minimising this? Using recycled paper (recycled paper is often more expensive but is eco-friendly) and stitch binding soft covers as opposed to using toxic glue and extra material are a few strategies I will be employing. My plan is to produce a limited run of self-designed, hand-made and self-published books. It is not really feasible to hand-make anything larger than tens of units but this can work in two ways; 1, the limited-ness of the book creates a 'specialness' and 2, with relatively low overheards, the success of the book can be judged and I can use some of the copies, almost as dummies, to send to publishing houses with a view of hopefully getting published to a larger run. As mentioned, I have experience as a book designer, liaising with printers and I have made countless dummies for myself and clients so I feel quite confident in moving forward in this self-sufficent manner. There are reference books on self-publishing (listed below) which I can refer to however I feel like I have a pretty good idea of what it is I want to create and how I will go about it, which I will document in upcoming posts.

- Jorg Colberg. 2016. Understanding Photobooks: The Form and Content of the Photographic Book. Routledge.
- Bruno Ceschel. 2015. Self Publish, Be Happy: A DIY Photobook Manual and Manifesto. Aperture.
- Parr, Martin. & Badger, G., 2004. The Photobook: A History Vol 1. 1 ed. London: Phaidon.

Anderson, Martin. 2020. Can't Smile Without You. AMS.

Genitempo, Matthew. 2021. A Small Voice: Conversations with Photographers 155 [Interview by Ben Smith] A Small Voice [Online] Available at: https://bensmithphoto.com/asmallvoice/genitempo-and-schutmaat [Accessed: 05.08.21]

Norfolk, Simon. 2019. A Small Voice: Conversations with Photographers 107 [Interview by Ben Smith] A Small Voice [Online] Available at: https://bensmithphoto.com/asmallvoice/simon-norfolk?rq=simon%20norfolk [Accessed: 05.08.21]



In my last couple of posts, I shared a sense of discontent with photographing monoliths and monuments in their entirety and resolved to not pursue that path and focus on the surfaces and patinas. I can't separate the instinctive feeling I had like I was photographing a person (whilst photographing those, inanimate, objects). It was quite a strange experience. Regardless of the interior personifications that I had going on, more to the point, photographing these objects in full is too specific - it becomes about them as specific, identified, selected objects as opposed to the visual 'time' embedded in their timeworn and weathered surfaces. It would be natural for any audience to quite rightly ask 'why that particular monolith or monument over any other?', the answer is that other than the hermitage cells, there is no particular reason other than their ancient surfaces.

The 'particularities' of each patina determine each surface unique and distinguishable, like fingerprints or the wrinkles of an old person. The unique particulars of each surface speak philosophically about how each personal journey's through time is absolutely unique and individual.

I consider my work to speak first about time and impermanence in universally understood and recognisable capacities, which is why I do not want a direct reference to any specific historical person or event in time as this will neutralise its universality. To maintain universality, things must be anonymous, and vague. However, I do want to subtly offset a human presence with the collection of patinas and other elemental images I have been making. I have decided that the hermitage cells will be to singular hint towards this because in themselves, they epitomise the core aspects of my work as solitary places of spiritual reflection embedded in nature.



I went for a hike across the common land of Rosenannon Downs. The space was so open, wild and sparse yet the clouds made everything feel so close. I could've taken far more images than what I did on this scene (fig.1) as the constant stream of clouds rolling over whilst constantly changing form I found myself standing and staring in beautiful, eerie, solitude and taking in what I have been writing about trying to seek out and photograph since the start of this journal - the fleeting moments of beauty that emanate from 'the interminable chain of being', and what simply is.

Fig.2: Nic Shonfeld. 2021. Old Forest #1 (in page layout for Interminable Chain project).

By contrast to the sparsity of the downs, I found myself following a path that lead me to a thick cluster of old trees. I have no idea what these trees are but I have seen similar clusters like this around the Cornish landscape. Under the canopy the complex of twisting and entwined branches allowed little light to enter the mini-forest. Enough to see the floor looked untouched, covered in dusty decaying moss. The trees looked so strong - firmly embedded but exposed roots clawing and clutching the ground as if to stay put and endure the turbulence of the harsh elements during its lifetime. To me, these trees are a visual essence of wabi-sabi, dense and murky, imperfect, incomplete and full of impermanence.

Fig.3: Nic Shonfeld. 2021. Old Forest #2 (in page layout for Interminable Chain project).



Fig.1: Nic Shonfeld, 2021, Detail of Men Gurta.

The 'St Breock Longstone' or 'Men Gurta' stands at the summit of the St Breock Downs within a 10m low stone mound or cairn, it has a distinct northerly lean. Men Gurta is a massive stone, it is the largest (4.9 metres) and heaviest (16.75 tonnes) monolith in Cornwall, and probably dates to the late Neolithic to mid-Bronze Age (around 2500–1500 BC).  I sat staring at the stone for quite a while, it is in the middle of nowhere and there is no manmade sound to be heard (there is a wind turbine field close by and it was windy anyway so I couldn't hear that). Nevertheless, there was something profoundly spiritual about being alone with the ginormous rock that had been put there amidst a vast empty expanse of land about 5000 years ago. The rock is formed from Devonian shale which has beautiful extensive feldspar veining. I took images of the rock's surface to add to the growing collection of patinas I have been photographing - the timeworn surfaces visualising traces of time, impermanence (Fig.1).

Fig.2: Nic Shonfeld, 2021, Men Gurta (in page layout spread for Interminable Chain project).

I also took 'portraits' (Fig.1) of the stone. Maybe I am overthinking this too much but I couldn't help but feel like I was taking a deadpan portrait of someone, like a Rinek Dijkstra or Alec Soth portrait. I guess when I am taking portraits or fashion photos, I prefer subjects to be still and I like to work around what is in front of me, the monolith was like the perfect model. It has been commented to me before that I tend to make subjects statue-like, not statuesque as in photographing from low down to accentuate the projection of them, but with a stillness to them. But as much I was feeling a connection with the stone, I took a lot of images which usually means something isn't sitting right for me. It's one of those photography moments when you get carried away in a moment and lose sight of what you are trying to accomplish - my project isn't about the specific rocks, it is about the traces of time embedded into their materiality. I have placed far too much importance on the actual rock, the detail image of the patina (fig.1) is all I need.

The image has uniformity with the central positioning being like something extracted from a deadpan typology, but my project is not a typology. Deadpan portraits and typologies are both concerned with the individual 'particularities' of a subject being what makes it unique and distinguishable, as Julian Stallabrass in specific relation to deadpan, or 'blank' portraiture: 'variability from picture to picture occurs mostly in the particularities of the subject.” (Stallabrass, 2007:71). My work is also concerned with the particularities, in my case the surface patinas as opposed to the distinguishing exterior, and interior, characteristics of a person. I have realised I need to focus on just that and not concerned myself with photographing the actual monuments in their entirety. The rocks become more universally understood and less specific in this way. This realisation has made me understand why I also felt a bit odd about the 'portrait' I took of St Pirran's Cross (here), whilst the cross is appropriate because it is incomplete (thus tying in with the concepts of wabi-sabi which are informing my work), it is too literal a translation. Moving forward, I am going to focus on the abstraction of larger subjects and not show them in their entirety. I want my images to have universal recognisability through their particularities - specific landmarks and monuments are too location-orientated for my objective.

Stallabrass, Julian. 2007. What’s in a Face? Blankness and Significance in Contemporary Art Photography. Article in October, Fall, 2007, Vol. 122 (Fall, 2007), pp. 71-90. The MIT Press Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/40368490 [accessed 11.02.21]



Fig.1: Nic Shonfeld, 2021, St Piran's Cross, Penhale Sands - Contact Sheet Scan

I walked through the dunelands behind Perranporth beach and finally found St Piran's Oratory. St Piran was a 5th-century Cornish abbot and is considered to be the patron saint of Cornwall and buried in the dunes are the ancient remains of an oratory established by the monk. The tiny oratory has been excavated and is now surrounded by an unsightly, but necessary, modern breezeblock structure to stabilise it. Close to the chapel is a peculiar cross, peculiar because it appears unfinished - it only has three holes (fig.2 left). I was attracted to this because not only is it linked to this oratory, a place of solitary spiritual reflection, it also ties into my project because of its incompleteness. Incompleteness is one of three principles in wabi-sabi (with impermanence and imperfection) that is underpinning the context of my work.

Fig.1: Nic Shonfeld, 2021, St Piran's Cross, Penhale Sands

I became confused when I was taking the full-length image seen in fig.2 (left); I felt like I was taking a portrait of the monument and as such felt like the message from the photo was becoming more about St. Piran than the metaphor I was using it for. Also, the cross appears 'manicured by human hand - there are other plants growing at its base which although I can't be sure, weren't in harmony with the rest of the natural terrain, I felt like they had been planted there. I tried to photograph a detail image of the head of the cross but it was impossible to fit all the cross-holes in the frame without also revealing the sky behind it. It didn't feel like a photo I would take. I photographed the surface of the monument to join my growing collection of patinas.



I revisited Roche Rock today and I was just as struck this time as I was the first time by the eerie beauty of this rock outcrop and the intriguing engineering of the oratory build into the granite outcrop. As I've written before (here), I am exploring hermitage cells as signifying a 'spiritual sanctuary from modern societies, weathered relics of human solitude embedded into the remote natural landscape'. On my reccy trip (here), I'd decided I wanted to try and show the entire outcrop, rather the being close, and I would also take images of the surface patina of the rock and hermitage cell - the timeworn surfaces visualising traces of time, impermanence. I also decided I want to shoot this project in unconventionally low light which essentially minimising shadows which subsequently avoids making the subject any more dramatic than it is already. There are other spiritual connotations and contexts about shooting in the dark to create light which I will elaborate on in this in a future more specific post.

Fig.2 & 3: Nic Shonfeld, 2021, Rock patina and Charred gorse, Roche Rock Oratory / Hermitage Cell.
Fig.4 & 5: Nic Shonfeld, 2021, Rock patina and charred gorse, Roche Rock Oratory / Hermitage Cell

I went to the rock just before the sun, if it was visible was due to go down. I purposefully chose this day because the clouds were thick and defuse. I don't want to dramatise my images and I am a little worried this main image (fig.1) is a little dramatic, the clouds making so. I am not sure, sometimes I look at it and think it is on the cusp of drama, other days more and also less so. I am however happy with the images of the surfaces and patinas of the rock outcrop (fig.2) and more images of gorse (fig.4) and charred bushes that are both dead and alive (fig.3 & 5). The bushes were charred from a recent fire where dry dead gorse had caught fire.

Fig.6: Nic Shonfeld, 2021, Roche Rock Oratory / Hermitage Cell. Contact sheet scan

I experimented with some hand-held shutters speeds, which can be seen on the bottom row of the contact sheet below (fig.6). I feel like these take on a different meaning to what I have in my mind, the motion is too literal in speaking about time and impermanence.



Local myth claims The Nine Sisters were cast to stone as punishment for dancing on the Sabbath. Further north is another megalith named 'The Fiddler', which is supposed to be the petrified remains of the musician who played for the dancers. The stone row was first noted in Survey of Cornwall (1605) by historian Richard Carew, Carew wrote: "Wade bridge delivereth you into waste ground, where 9 long and great stones called The Sisters stand in a ranke together, and seem to have been so pitched, for continuing the memory of somewhat, whose notice is yet envied us by time." (Carew, 1605). I am exploring the idea of photographing the timework and weathered surfaces and patinas of ancient ruins and remains to visualise traces of impermanence. I went to visit the Nine Maidens (Naw-voz, or Naw-whoors) neolithic stone row today but was charged out of the field by some aggressive cows.

Mobile phone picture just before charged at by The Nine Maidens' Guard-Cows, A field alongside the A39 between St Columb Major and Wadebridge

All of my research pointed to lots of people on Trip Advisor happily jumping over the sty to the field and enjoying the 108 metres (354 ft) long row of irregular, recumbent and broken north-easterly facing megaliths ranging from (2.6 ft) (a stump) to 2.1 metres (6.9 ft) in height. All was as mentioned on Trip Advisor and as I jumped over the sty I noticed lots of cows over the fall side of the row of stones. I didn't think anything of it and that they would just move as I got nearer. They actually started moving towards me and as the atmosphere thickened it dawned on me that I was being prompted to move on. I just had enough time to register my escape route (the sty was about 100m away) before they charged at me. I managed to dive over the fence. The cows continued butting the fence and charging all the way along until I had they had chaperoned me off-site. I really wasn't expecting such an encounter. My mum said to me "you're an idiot, people die from cow stampedes", I spent the evening googling the dangers of walking in cow fields.

Fig.1: Nic Shonfeld, 2021, Deer Carcass.

As I was getting back on my motorbike, I noticed a young deer carcass in the lay-by where I'd parked. I photographed the deer in its natural state of decay, speaking, albeit in stark terms, about impermanence. Also, in Buddhist and Pagan thought, deer antlers are a spiritual metaphor for impermanence through the idea of natural re-birth and re-generation. The carcass, which oddly it didn't smell or have flies hovering around it, was layed by some bushes naturally decomposing - it did not appear to have been touched by other animals and, curiously, its jawbone was about a metre away exclusive from the rest of the remains. I am not sure if this image makes sense as yet (fig.2). I imagine the young animal was hit by a vehicle and the driver had pulled it in off the road. I hope it didn't suffer and I respectfully say thank you to this animal for being part of my project.

Fig.2: Nic Shonfeld, 2021, Deer Jawbone.

Carew, Richard. 1605. Survey of Cornwall



I've written before (here) about wanting to explore the idea of photograph Hermitage cells and oratory's for my new work - they symbolise a spiritual sanctuary in nature away from human society. During my research I identified one particular hermit cell I felt a huge pull towards. It is built into a large rock outcrop on the outskirts of a local village called Roche. In researching Roche Rock, I found a fantastically apt description of it by 17th-century typographer John Norden, I've written about it here but in short, the description related to nature and time, which are both central to the context of my work.

Fig.1: Nic Shonfeld, 2021, Roche Rock Oratory / Hermitage Cell. Contact sheet scan

I took a reccy trip to the today. If the sky had been a little more ominous I might have experienced something spectacularly eerie - there was not a soul in sight except blackbirds swooping around the top of the truly impressive structure - it was straight out of a horror movie stuff. It made me think about how I need to shoot in low light, not because I want to make it look spectacular, on the contrary, I want to shoot it as it is found and not dramatise it - shooting in low light will help to balance exposure.

Aside from the main pathway to the base of the actual rock, which comes at it from the side of the chapel and isn't a good vantage point, the surrounding land is a thick sea of ferns and gorse which makes finding a good place to shoot from quite limiting. I have an idea of where I want to photograph it from but the barely trodden pathways leading that way were so muddy I decided I would need to come back and explore the area more when the weather wasn't quite so foul. I took the closer images of the chapel for the sake of it - sometimes negatives appear differently in print to how you thought when you took the picture, not the case in this instance, they confirm I want to photograph it from a far more distant location and include to the full scale of the outcrop.

I took some images of some charred gorse bushes I found at the base of the rock. There had been a gorse fire at the site recently so much of the vegetation was burnt and charred. Gorse is a symbol of Cornwall, what does a burnt symbol of Cornwall signify? Nothing I want to say really. I was thinking, in relation to time, about the history of the plants and bushes, like a near-death experience or something. The charred growth seems to make sense but I am not quite sure why at the moment.



Fig.1: Contact sheet scan

I took a trip to Bedruthen Steps today, I didn't really have anything in mind to photograph other than knowing this stretch of coast is so rugged and you can really see at scale who the elements have battered the landscape, also a sea-mist was covering much of the North coast. It was so thick when I arrived I felt pensive about walking the coastline alone - I must've only passed maybe 10 people in about two and half hours of being there. Also in that 2.5 hours, I didn't manage to find 'The Steps' which I came to see, I'm putting it down to a lack of signposts but in actuality, I took the wrong path and walked in the wrong direction. No big deal, the area I walked was still an extraordinarily beautiful and rugged stretch of coast, at least what I could see of it that is.

The sea mist was so thick that it was almost blanketing everything out and found myself preoccupied with safety over taking pictures, so I took a couple of rolls and have pencilled in returning on a day with slightly better visibility to photograph the coastline - some mist but not as much as that. I did however take a couple of images I will like to see printed larger of three sprawling mini-headlands, see middle-centre of fig.1. I also took a few 6x7 frames of the small collection of islands just offshore - the largest island looking like the dorsal fin of a submarine or a shark (see fig.2 above).



Fig.1: Gareth Phillips. 2015. Hiraeth.

I had a video meeting with Laura Hynd today, she suggested I look at; Gareth Phillips Hiraeth project, which I am familiar with Hiraeth having attended a video presentation recently with Phillips, and the Mapping project by Daan Zuijderwijk and Maaike Vergouwe, who I am not familiar with. Phillips' work is the result of a personal and emotional pilgrimage in his homeland, Zuijderwijk and Vergouwe's work seems to be concerned with human intervention in nature - whilst both works are very different visually and contextually, they are both about a relationship with the landscape. However, something interesting came out of looking at their work further... Faces, Pareidolia, like the Pikachu-ey thing in one of Phillip's images (Fig.1), or the John & Yono couple entwined (Fig.2) in Zuijderwijk and Vergouwe's Looking for Inua project in which other pareidolian objects feature such as frogs and archaic-looking sea-creatures.

Fig.2: Daan Zuijderwijk and Maaike Vergouwe. Looking For Inue.

Pareidolia is seeing faces, objects or patterns in things where is none, for example seeing faces or animal shapes in cloud formations. Perhaps a slightly trivial notion on first consideration and whilst nowadays considered a normal human fascination, it was historically considered a form of hallucinatory psychosis. I am thinking about the human element in my work. I have been considering whether I want a human presence and if it is appropriate or not given the work, as it stands now, is about my relationship with nature. The 'message' I want to give is universal but it is from my approximated viewpoint (more about that here) - I think the message is primary and the standpoint is secondary (photography is only ever from the photographer's standpoint so this is kind of given) and such think any human presence needs to be universally recognisable. Of course, there are many ways of hinting at human presence but I think pareidolia could be interesting as representative of the perception and lends itself to chance finding's on my trips out into nature. I don't want to make this a primary feature of the work, but even one image like this would add an interesting layer to the work.



During my research of hermitage cells and oratory's, I came across the ruins of a local early 15th Century (1409) cell/oratory built into a large granite outcrop in the village of Roche. Pre-dating the cell, the outcrop appears to be the centre of a site long-venerated with pre-historic religious importance - Neolithic pottery and remains have been uncovered in the vicinity and local settlements taking their name from the feature. The chapel, a masterpiece of mediæval engineering, is dedicated to St Michael and is said to have been the abode of a hermit monk named Ogrin.

Fig.1: Description of Roche Rock - Extract from John Norden's 'Description of Cornwall' (1610).

I found an oddly but highly appropriate (to my work) description of the rock written (in Olde English) in 1610 by topographer Jon Norden (see fig.1). It reads:'In this ragged pyle may be obserued five seueral workes: the firste of nature, whoe, as a mother, begate this stonye substance; nexte of force, whereby the water at the generall floude depryued it of her earth coueringe shelter, leauinge it naked; the therde of arte, which raysed a buylding vpon so cragged a foundation; a fourth, of industrye, in workinge concauitye (concavity) in so obdurate a subjecte; lastly, of deuotion, wherein men, in their then well-wenuinge (well-meaning) zeale, would abandon, as it were, the societye of humane creatures, and undergoe the tedious daylie asceut, and continuance of so cold and so abandoned a place. To this may be added a sixth worke, euen of Time, who, as she is the mother, and begetteth, so is she the destroyer of her begotten chyldren; and nothinge that she bringeth forth is permanent.' - (Norden's 'Description of Cornwall' (1610), quoted in Ancient Crosses, and Other Antiquities in the East of Cornwall, John Thomas Blight (1865:107-108).

The paragraph addresses the key themes of my project: Nature ('as a mother, begat this stone substance; next of force, whereby the water at the general flood deprived it of her earth covering shelter, leaving it naked'), art ('which raised a building upon so cragged a foundation'), the abandonment of society to submit and fuse with nature (of devotion, wherein men, in their then well-meaning zeale, would abandon, as it were, the society of humane creatures) and impermanence in connection to nature and time ('Time, who, as she is the mother, and begetteth, so is she the destroyer of her begotten children; and nothing that she bringeth forth is permanent'). I am keen to incorporate this text into my work somehow, or at the very least, my work moving forward will be in consideration of this citation. I love the odd idea of 'a sixth of five works', and it might well be that this becomes part of the title of the work.

Blight, J.T. (1858) Ancient Crosses and Other Antiquities in the East of Cornwall. London: Simpkin, Marshall and Co. Dublin: Hodges & Smith. Penzance: F.T Vibert.



Nic Shonfeld, 2021. Mobile phone 'reccy' image of Roche Rock

I could summarise my new work as being driven by a desire to 'return to nature/source/origin as an escape from the cacophony of technologised modern life, and to reflect on the impermanent, imperfect and incomplete fleetingness of time'. I've been searching for metaphors to visualise this contemplative call to nature, and through researching hermitage cells and oratory's I think I have found what I am looking for. As weathered relics of human solitude embedded into the remote natural landscape, hermitage cells signify a spiritual sanctuary from modern societies.

Nature-based Zen Buddhist philosophies in Wabi-Sabi aesthetics inform my work. Parallels can be drawn between Christian hermitages and Zen Buddhist monks seeking enlightenment alone in nature. As a side-thought, in a previous post about Jon Cazenave's Galerna project, I wrote about a commonality between his work and my own through the quest to find a sense of 'forgiveness' for our respective landscapes - as opposed to the enlightenment searched in Buddhism, Christianity, or religion at large, for me as an outsider looking in, always seemed to be underpinned by the seeking forgiveness for human sins. It is interesting that both of us are seeking ways of forgiveness, not for ourselves, by seeking a more Zen approach to finding reconciliation through nature.

Whilst the meaning of wabi-sabi has evolved into a positive meaning of aesthetic values, it is fascinating to think that the original meaning of the word Wabi related heavily to the idea of the hermitage: "Wabi originally meant the misery of living alone in nature, away from society, and suggested a discouraged, dispirited, cheerless emotional state. The self-imposed isolation and voluntary poverty of the hermit and ascetic came to be considered opportunities for spiritual richness. For the poetically inclined, this kind of life fostered an appreciation of minor details of everyday life and insights into the beauty of the inconspicuous and overlooked aspects of nature. In turn, unprepossessing simplicity took on new meaning as the basis of a new pure beauty" (Koren, 1994:22).

In the wabi-sabi metaphysical universe, 'all things are either emerging from nothingness or heading to it'. The philosophical principles of impermanence, incompleteness and imperfection in wabi-sabi aesthetics can be visually articulated by murky material traces of what is timeworn, weathered and in a state of decay (see my post about philosophical surfaces here). In this respect, the time-weathered surfaces of hermitages have become wabi-sabi - places where people once sought out spiritual enlightenment have, over time, inadvertently become visual objects embodying the very thing they were built, or appropriated, to facilitate.

Koren, Leonard (1994) Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers. California: Imperfect Publishing.



Fig.1: Rosemary Lewsie, 1999. Tregarrick Tor Menhir.

I am proposing to make an ongoing work informed by derivatives of the Three Marks of Existence which are central to philosophical aesthetics of wabi-sabi: impermanence, imperfection and incompleteness. In an ontological collision of nature, history and myth, I am proposing to approximate the intangible forging of a metaphysical kinship with the rugged elements of the ancient Cornish land and seascapes - a mysterious land that holds traces of a lost time when nature was honoured, brutal and raw as opposed to aestheticised, tamed and exploited. The work is underpinned by a personal quest for a necessary fusion with nature, to escape the cacophony of technologised input and seek out confirmation of qualities of the world found in moments of solitude in nature. The impetus arrives from a recent experience that forced me to reflect on the fleetingness of time and the importance of living in the present. It is in traces of the subtle flow of time and acceptance of impermanence, imperfection and incompleteness that beauty (the central enigma in art) emanates from the interminable chain of being.

Image Reference
Fig.1: Rosemary Lewsie, 1999. Tregarrick Tor Menhir. In Payne, R. (1999) The Romance of the Stones: Cornwall's Pagan Past. Fowey Rare Books.



Paulo Coelho wrote 'Not all storms come to disrupt your life; some come to clear your path' (The Zahir, 2005), this is what happened to Jon Cazenave with his long-haul project Galerna (storm in Basque). An essay by Fannie Escoulen in the publication asks 'where does this storm come from?'. The answer comes in Cazenave's almost religious undertaking of photography through which he found a way of channelling hostility into forgiveness towards his Basque homeland. Regardless of what the haunting hostility is, it is political violence in Cazenave's case, I have written before (here) about leaving England through a sense of disenchantment and now through my own work, I am trying to mend that relationship and re-connect by seeking out a spiritual influence in nature.

Jon Cazenave, 2020. Galerna

Escoulen repeatedly uses religious references in her essay, she states Casenave took up photography: 'the way people take up religious orders', 'through photography he found a way of exorcizing the anger taken over him', 'one must look to the deep black that haunts him to ... from which he had to emerge to see the light'. I am interested in these religious analogies given that I have recently started researching the ruins of (Christian) hermitage cells and oratories in Cornwall to photograph for my project. I see these as a good philosophical metaphor for seeking out nature-based spiritual enlightenment, in solitude, away from society. It is interesting to think about the parallels between photography and religion in so far as both essentially are about transforming darkness into light. Cazenave's work comes from solitary wanders in his land whilst trying to 'become one with it', through which he gradually learns to embrace and connect, I am taking the same approach in trying to reconcile with England.

The statement for Galerna on Cazenave's website reads: '...nature, history and legend come together with unusual force and create a land of myths and magic that I explore through photography. A land where nature is praised in old rites learned from our ancestors. These intangible concepts...create a visual imaginary which serves me to understand the society and the land I live in... Trees, waves, animals and black skies build a symbolic world that I turn into a channel to reach the soul of the Basques, an old soul, the soul of the one who pursues its lost paradise'. The work expresses an elemental desire to return to a source, in a time when nature was more important. But this place doesn't exist, it is blend of mediated history and imagination. Cazenave is using photography to create an almost imaginary land, the place he wants to return is not tangible.

Places, identities and emotions are intangible and unmeasurable, Brad Fruerhelm makes this the central point of his review of Galerna for American Suburb X in which he reminds us of the importance of distinguishing between 'description' and 'approximation'. Fruerhelm points out Cazenave recognises that in photographic authorship we can only suggestively talk 'around things' rather than claiming to describe them: "its best course of action is to speak about these topics in metaphor as if an attempt at truth will not be tolerated by observers from a secondhand accounting...he has extended the possibility of approximation by decisively thinking through atmosphere and effect allowing the images to 'suggest' and not 'tell' or 'describe'. The images resonate with very little outside knowledge of the place and yet, you cannot read the images as 'what is', but rather 'what could be'." (Fruerhelm, 2021). Representational truths cannot be communicated to an audience as if a direct experience, in a presumed position of authority, but rather by way of association.

Aesthetic obscurantism is important, some things are best described by imagination. Surely an essence is infinitely more interesting than a fact? Outside the realms of what you could call 'responsible' journalistic photography, transparency and ideological clarity in some respects can diminish effectiveness. In respect of wabi-sabi, candour would diminish its elusive and mysterious qualities. Koren said 'wabi-sabi is never used as a representation or symbol' (Koren, 1994:21) because wabi-sabi is only ever referential. Wabi-sabi talks around things as opposed to of things directly.

I am not qualified to represent the ancient history and cultures of Cornwall, I can only talk suggestively 'around' my own loose analogous approximation. It is only by contextualising work as an approximation that I can qualify any claim to anything that I photograph. By doing so, inadvertently, the work becomes unique, but that's a different conversation for another time.

Cazenave, Jon (2020). Galerna. EXB/Dalpine 1st Edition. Available at: https://www.dalpine.com/products/galerna-jon-cazenave

Freurhelm, Brad (2021). Jon Cazenave Galerna. America Suburb X, 08.04.21 [online]. Available at: https://americansuburbx.com/2021/04/jon-cazenave-galerna.html [accessed 29.05.21]



Fig.1: Margaret Lansink, 2019. Natsukashii, Borders of Nothingness - On the Mend

In Buddhist thought, as opposed to traditional Hellenic attitudes, there is no duality or distinction between what is beautiful (new, divine, symmetrical, regular) and non-beautiful (old, asymmetrical, irregular, ugly). Jacobo Siruela suggests this is what Rodin was talking about when he claimed ‘in nature, everything is beautiful’ (Gsell, 1910). In a materialistic and technologised world of idealised eternal youth and wealth, decay is perpetually replaced. However, the values in wabi-sabi aesthetics dictate that beauty is coaxed out of ugliness because natural formation conserves beauty - the closer things come to their state of non-existence, or the more something undesirable is embraced more exquisite, stronger and exceptional they become.

Kintsugi (金継ぎ, 'golden joinery', also known as kintsukuroi 金繕い, 'golden repair'), the ancient art of mending broken ceramics with gold lacquer, serves as a philosophical metaphor for embracing our own 'cracks' and by learning to accept and embrace our flaws we can become stronger and more beautiful because of it. Margaret Lansink has incorporated this practice in her Borders of Nothingness photography project to reflect on the flaws in her broken and now mended relationship with her previously estranged daughter (see fig.1).

Nature and animals, as existing things, are beautiful in their own right but they do not exist with the knowledge of their beauty. The same can be said of humans as a species being beautiful in themselves, Jon Casenave said ‘souls do not inhabit nature; they are nature itself’ (Cazenave, 2012). The consciousness of a divided perception of beauty is what sets us apart. Beauty is a subjective idealism living in the human heart and gaze. It is these idealistic human constructs that have led us to operate in dualistic terms - dualisms that distinguish 'flaws' between permanence and impermanence, perfection and imperfection and completeness and incompleteness.

The universe doesn't require beauty. Beauty is something other, something mysterious; a feeling, an essence, a perception. Leonard Koren stated "Wabi-sabi suggests that beauty is a dynamic event that occurs between you and something else. Beauty can spontaneously occur at any given moment given the proper circumstances, context or point of view. Beauty is thus an altered state of consciousness, an extraordinary moment of poetry and grace" (Koren, 1994:51). Koren is not only talking about perception but is also alluding to spatial-temporal dynamics.

In writing the introduction to Masao Yamamoto’s Small Things in Silence (2020), Jacobo Siruela articulates how nature ultimately defines beauty through impermanence. Siruela asks 'But what is nature in its primordial state? Plainly and simply, it is beauty'. If impermanence is the key defining aspect of nature, we can say that beauty is also defined by impermanence.

Siruela also refers to beauty as the 'central enigma in art...a yearning, a goal never attained'. He asserts that 'beauty' has been almost relegated from modern art but suggests this unattainability is less responsible for the lack of spiritual value in modern art than the demise of spirituality itself. Nevertheless, beauty is not found in divinity as Siruela points out: ‘Beauty can no longer be idealistic; our age is not even in a position to claim such transcendence. We are too prosaic; and not dreamers enough. The sense of beauty cannot return through transcendence but through impermanence.’ (Siruela in Yamamoto, 2020). Impermanence is the harmonious natural result and consequence of everything that exists, beauty is defined by the interminable chain of being.

Koren, Leonard (1994) Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers. California: Imperfect Publishing.

Gsell, Paul. (1910). Rodin on realism. He Interprets the Beauty of Ugliness, (trans. from La Revenue) Boston Evening, 15.03.10.

Yamamoto, Masao. (2020) Small Things in Silence. RM Verlag SL; 1st edition.

Lansink, Margaret (2019) Natsukashii, Borders of Nothingness - On the Mend. Available at: https://margaretlansink.com/Borders-of-Nothingness-On-the-Mend-1



Human survival dictates we are inevitably heading towards a time where nature will exist in the history books and in this respect to 'return to nature' is now more important than ever - surely embracing a return to our nature (our source, our origins) is vital to the modern psyche after being locked up in isolation for well over a year, not to mention that cacophony of modern technologized input and aestheticized materiality so engrained in our lives: "Diversity of the cultural ecology is a desirable state of affairs, especially in opposition to the accelerating trend toward the uniform digitalisation of all sensory experience, wherein an electronic 'reader' stands between and observation, and all manifestation is encoded identically" (Koren, 1994:8)

Nic Shonfeld, 2017, Untitled in Pa Co, Vietnam

The unimaginable affluence attained in the West has left something of a spiritual void; a sense of belonging, meaning and purpose and there appears to be subsidence no matter how ethical agencies strive to be. As unattainable capitalist hopes and fantasies are perpetually sold to people by advertisers, Andrew Juniper points out: "It is now the media who have an omnipotent say in how we see ourselves. How scary and undesirable is that? Yet the fact remains we all need meaning in order for our lives to have a sense of purpose, and it is the media and advertisers who hold great sway of our meaning structure. However, without this sense of purpose, we could find ourselves adrift in the sea of indifference and apathy, and this is one of the great dilemmas facing mankind in this age" (Juniper, 2003:147). It is a dilemma, we can't live in a world without meaning and purpose, but at the same time, the artificial, sanitised, materialistic versions of existence offered up by the media are truly lacking in substance.

Leonard Koren said when wabi-sabi first came into his consciousness, he saw it as an appealing antidote to the materialistic advertising media versions of events: "Wabi-Sabi seemed to be a nature-based aesthetic paradigm that restored a measure of sanity and proportion to the art of living. Wabi-sabi resolved my artistic dilemma about how to create beautiful things without getting caught up in the dispiriting materialism that usually surrounds such creative acts. Wabi-sabi - deep, multi-dimensional, elusive - appeared the perfect antidote to the pervasively slick, saccharine corporate style of beauty that was desensitising American society" (Koren, 1994:9). Creativity can breathe, with real substance, by adopting a wabi-sabi attitude. It goes without saying how demand for material goods to meet rising populations seriously impacts our environment and puts pressure on the world's resources.

"...despite the emergence of pop culture, there still lies deep within us an innate longing for arts and environments that will help to put our perceptions back into some sort of perspective. It is through these varied mediums that people...gently remind themselves of their intrinsic fragility and use these sensory cues as a springboard for attaining a more profound sense of themselves., helping to see through the folly that pervades much of daily life. It is the uncompromising touch of death that can put a keener edge on our appreciation of life" (Juniper, 2003:145-146)

"Wabi-Sabi, as a tool for contemplation and a philosophy of life, may now have an unforeseen relevance as an antidote to the rampant unravelling of the very social fabric... Its tenets of modesty and simplicity gently encourage a disciplined overindulgence in the physical world. It gently promotes a life of quiet contemplation and a gentle aesthetic principle that underscores a mediative approach. Wabi-Sabi demotes the role of the intellect and promotes an intuitive feel for life where relationships between people and their environments should be harmonious. By emboldening the spirit to remind itself of its own mortality it can elevate the quality of human life in a world that is fast losing its spirituality" (Juniper, 2003:148).

Artists can possibly resolve the truly dispiriting dilemma of modern society' fabric by returning to a time when art was concerned with when creatives innocently strived to bring an element of spiritual value to their work. Now is a time more than ever to return to nature, what is essential and important for us as a species, as opposed to perpetuating in this is vacuous chasing of what is unattainable. "The sanctuaries of this beauty are not in cities, or in metropolitan museums or galleries; they are concealed in the ever fewer natural spaces of our planet. They are distant, extemporaneous, autonomous, secret models; but of enormous value, because the aesthetic feeling they awaken helps artists and human beings to understand the essence of life. Its original transparency; its mysterious simplicity; its great power of renewal for the future" (Jacobo Siruela in Yamamoto, 2020)

Koren, Leonard (1994) Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers. California: Imperfect Publishing.
Juniper, Andrew (2003) Wabi-Sabi: The Japanese Art of Japanese of Impermanence. Tuttle Publishing
Yamamoto, Masao. (2020) Introduction by Jacobo Seruila. Small Things in Silence. RM Verlag SL; 1st edition.



Kurokawa Suizan, ca.1906. Untitled.

In Small Things in Silence (2020), Jacobo Sireula says Masao Yamamoto's photos evoke: “That original, natural state of being that transports our deepest imagination to the lost world from which we were torn centuries ago, whose reality still awakens in us a strange and vague unconscious desire to go back to the origin - the return to ourselves.”.

Fukuhara Shinzō said photography ‘articulated’ visually the emotions or moods triggered by experiencing nature. In 1923, Nakajima Kenkichi said the 'ideal' of photography was a “fusion with nature” (shizen to no yūgō) - this represented a core idea that belonged to this movement and alongside the goal of making visible the artist’s inner feelings lead to Fuchikami Hakuyo’s belief that  ‘the ultimate purpose of the viewing of nature is to discover the emotion of abstracted nature‘. In essays attempting to articulate Japanese Pictorialism, Fukuhara continually referenced shizen ni jūjun nar (submission to nature) as an inherent quality of Japanese identity epitomised by the Haiku of Matsuo Bashö (considered Japan’s ‘greatest nature poet’). Fukuhara Shinzō claimed Haiku as the very essence of ‘Japanese-ness’ and enthused: ‘photographers must live in Bashö’s heart. Basho’s heart has lived a long time in us, and photographic expression is giving structure in form to a nature poem [in the manner of Bashö]’ (Fraser, 2014:220).

By making strong connections between pictorialism and ancient Haiku poetry, Fukuhara essentially defined Japanese Pictorialism as visual Haiku. Fukuhara’s essays also frequently cited a phrase (with unclear origins) – “A poem is a formless picture; a picture is a soundless poem,” to explain ‘(haiku)...had the ability to elicit a strong emotional resonance within the constraints of an abbreviated structure, it made an apt parallel to pictorial photography’ (ibid). Haiku has a standard form of just seventeen syllables to elicit one simple and evocative verse with a larger appeal and Fukuhara believed Japanese photographers should be striving to achieve this in Pictorialism – “like the beauty cleverly captured in the form of a simple poem formed from three phrases, produced in a haiku state of mind, avoiding complex representation and recreating the impression of the moment, with a motive close to haiku.” (Fraser, 2014:220). The brevity of Haiku could be likened to the essence-based aspects of the modern-day ‘social photo’ - Nathan Jurgenson quoted Scott McCloud when likening the messages in social photos to cartoon speech bubbles by way of ‘amplification through simplification’, (McCloud in Jurgenson, 2019:19).

My images do not subscribe to the traditional painterly, nebulous and nostalgic material aesthetics of Pictorialism, however, I like to think my photographs of nature are informed by, and share, the philosophical articulation of Japanese Pictorialism and its connections to the themes and brevity of Haiku poetry. My approach is to make images that speak philosophically around nature, minimally and amplify the essence of impermanence.

Fraser, Karen, M. 2014. Fukuhara Shinzō and the “Japanese” Pictorial Aesthetic. Review of Japanese Culture and Society, Dec.2014, Vol. 26, Commensurable Distinctions: Intercultural Negotiations of Modern and Contemporary Japanese Visual Culture (Dec. 2014), pp. 209-227.

Jurgenson, Nathan (2019) The Social Photo: On Photography and other Social Media. Verso

Yamamoto, Masao. (2020) Introduction by Jacobo Seruila. Small Things in Silence. RM Verlag SL; 1st edition.



Nic Shonfeld. 2019, 86 Train Street, Hanoi.

As wabi-sabi is both visual and philosophical, we can think about the materiality as emotive and what messages are engrained in the surfaces and translate into human sensibility. Wabi-Sabi could be associated with the word 'rustic'; simple, earthy, unpretentious, natural materials, rough in appearance, typical of the countryside, artless, unsophisticated, irregular or even crude, uncouth or awkward. Under Leonard Koren's 'comprehensive aesthetic system' (Koren, 1994:40) to describe wabi-sabi (I wrote about it here), characteristics include that which is asymmetrical, rough, economic, austere and modest.

Irregular: Wabi-Sabi could be seen as the opposite is conventional good taste. In design and mass-production irregularity is penalised and costly. Irregular = human touch and nature of touch as opposed to mechanization.

Intimate: Small, compact, quiet, secluded, private, tranquil - 'womb-like'.

Unpretentious: Wabi-Sabi is the opposite of 'Look at me and my splendour, I am important'.

Earthy: rich and raw in texture, course and unrefined - not far from original condition. Craftsmanship may not seemingly be evident.

Murky: vague, blurry, attenuated qualities (approaching and coming from nothingness).

Simple: 'Nothingness' is core to wabi-sabi and simplicity is ultimate as anything before or after nothing is less simple. (Koren, 1994:62-72). The authenticity of wabi-sabi lays in the minute timeworn details which add depth, expression, appeal and randomness, they can be seen easier as opposed to the obvious flaws and imperfections in something intentional made to appear as balanced and flawless, as per post-industrial modernism.

Things wabi-sabi are made from materials that are subject to the corrosive forces of natural weathering and, likewise, the wear and tear of usage caused by human hands. "They record the sun, wind, rain, heat and cold in a language of discolouration, rust, tarnish, stain, warping, shrinking, shrivelling and cracking. Their nicks, chips, bruises, scars, dents, peeling, and other forms of attrition are a testament to histories of use and misuse. Though things wabi-sabi may be on the point of dematerialisation (or materialisation) - extremely faint, fragile, or desecrated - they still possess an undiminished poise and strength of character" (Koren, 1994:62). All of the adjectives in Koren's quote describe something impermanent, imperfect and incomplete, three core principles of wabi-sabi. The weathered, timeworn-ness found in nature speaks philosophically of impermanence and it is in this context I am photographing the surfaces and patinas of ancient historical sites in Cornwall.

Koren, Leonard (1994) Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers. California: Imperfect Publishing.



Wabi-Sabi is an expressive world-view by no means exclusive to Japan, its sentiments are shared by humans regardless of geography and cultural boundaries. In relation to aesthetics, Wabi-Sabi has influenced the way beauty (beauty being the central enigma in art) is perceived in the East as much as classical Grecian culture has in the West. Koren asserts that beauty, as serene without added grandeur and the resonance of melancholic expression, artistic or otherwise, are universal sensibilities albeit to varying degrees in different cultures: 'Greatness' exists in the inconspicuous and overlooked details. Wabi-Sabi represents the exact opposite of the Western ideal of beauty as something monumental, spectacular and enduring. Wabi-Sabi is not found in nature at the moment of bloom or lushness, but at the moment of inception or subsiding. Wabi-Sabi is not about gorgeous flowers, majestic trees or bold landscapes. Wabi-Sabi is about the minor and the hidden, the tentative and the ephemeral: things so subtle and evanescent they are invisible to the vulgar eye" (Koren, 1994:50)

In relation to an international post-industrialist generalised Modernism, the dominant aesthetic standard since the mid-20th century, Leonard Koren points out there are a few similarities between the two: 'both apply to all manner of manmade objects, spaces and designs; both are strong reactions against the dominant established sensibilities of their time (modernism against 19th-century classicism and eclecticism, wabi-sabi against the Chinese perfection and gorgeousness of 16th century); both eschew any decoration that is not integral to structure, both are abstract, nonrepresentational ideals of beauty, and both have readily identifiable surface characteristics (modernism being seamless, smooth and polished, wabi-sabi being earthy, irregular and variegated)' (Koren, 1994:25-29).

Primarily Expressed in the public domainPrimarily Expressed in the private domain
Logical rational worldviewIntuitive worldview
Seeks universal prototypical solutionsSeeks personal idiosyncratic solution
Mass-produced / ModularOne-of-a-kind / Variable
Expresses faith in progressThere is no progress
Believes in control of natureBelieves in fundamental uncontrollability of nature
Romanticises technologyRomantisices nature
People adapting to machinesPeople adapting to nature
Geometric organisation of formOrganic organisation of form
The box as metaphorThe bowl as metaphor
Manmade materialsNatural materials
Ostensibly slickOstensibly crude
Needs to be maintainedAccommodates degradation and attrition
Purity makes expression richerCorrosion and contamination makes expression richer
Solicits reduction of sensory informationSolicits the expansion of sensory information
Intolerant of ambiguity and contradictionComfortable with ambiguity and contradiction
Generally light and brightGenerally dark and dim
Function and utility are primary valuesFunction and utility are not so important
Perfect materiality is an idealPerfect immateriality is an ideal
EverlastingTo everything there is a season
(Koren, 1994:26-29)

Andrew Juniper argues in Wabi Sabi: The Japanese Art of Japanese of Impermanence (2003) whilst Modernism carries an undeniable tendency to avoid speculation about our inevitable passing, the sentiments impermanence and appreciation of things wabi-sabi are present in many of the world's artistic expressions. People are often drawn to the melancholy suggested by things wabi-sabi without really questioning why: "Where the Japanese people may have differed in the past is in the completeness of their devotion to all arts that embody the essential reference point of impermanence. Through their earnest endeavours in matters of the spirit, they have managed their artforms so that they are worthy reflections of the mystery that we know as life. Their dedication to paring away all that is necessary, of reaching the real heart of the matter..." (Juniper, 2003:147)

Koren, Leonard (1994) Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers. California: Imperfect Publishing.
Juniper, Andrew (2003) Wabi Sabi: The Japanese Art of Japanese of Impermanence. Tuttle Publishing



Nic Shonfeld. 2018. Untitled in Nghe An, Vietnam.

Trying to rationalise and articulate wabi-sabi appears largely been avoided because it is fundamentally dealing in terms of emotional experience and the essence of things. By trying to explain Wabi-Sabi in writing almost goes against the very idea of wabi-sabi; If all things are incomplete, how can they be fully documented? Western authors of wabi-sabi often state that the concept seems intentionally avoided in Japanese discourse because of its obfuscation: 'the concept is so full of thorny issues for the Japanese intellectual' (Koren, 1994:10). Obscurantism is a defining feature of wabi-sabi and it almost relies on mystery to uphold its elusive 'specialness'. Emotive concepts are inarticulable. Wabi-sabi shares a direct correlation with art and photography here in that essences are approximated as opposed to facts truthfully told.

There are however standard definitions that scratch the surface. We can say that wabi-sabi is a traditional Japanese cultural aesthetic born from a world view centred on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. Wabi-Sabi is peripherally associated with Zen Buddhism as a derivative from the Buddhist teaching of the three marks of existence (三法印, sanbōin), most notably 'impermanence' (無常, mujō), 'suffering' (苦, ku) and 'emptiness' or 'absence of self-nature (空, ). It is an aesthetic that speaks of accepting and appreciating the "imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete" flows of existence found in nature: "Wabi-Sabi is an intuitive appreciation of transient beauty in the physical world that reflects the irreversible flow of life in the spiritual world. It is an understated beauty that exists in the modest, rustic, imperfect, or even decayed, an aesthetic sensibility that finds a melancholic beauty in the impermanence of all things." (Juniper, 2003:51)

Impermanence (無常, mujō): All things are impermanent and are heading towards 'nothingness', be that tangible (rocks, planets and stars) or intangible (reputation, heritage, memory, cultures, theory, language), analogue or digital form, will eventually fade into nonexistence. Does a photograph make something permanent? Does a negative deteriorate or even a platinum print eventually fade? What of a digital file saved in a format that will inevitably become obsolete and unreadable? Does the image cease to exist in the making of a copy to a new format?

Imperfection: Nothing in existence is perfect, or rather, nothing exists without imperfection. Even the most seemingly perfect straight edge will have flaws when magnified. Over time, everything becomes more irregular and flawed. Is there a perfect photograph? In whose eyes is it perfect?

Incompleteness: All things in our universe, including the universe itself, are in an undeniable state of deterioration, nothing is ever finished not complete. At what point is a wave or a tree complete? Is a photograph finished when it is taken? or does it take on new meaning as soon as it is taken and distributed to myriad different subjective audiences?

In Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers ((Koren, 1994:40), Leonard Koren explains Wabi-Sabi as a referential 'comprehensive aesthetic system'. The table below is a breakdown of the key interrelating aspects:

Metaphysics:All things are either evolving from, or devolving towards, 'nothingness'. While the universe constructs, it also destruct. New things emerge out of 'nothingness', which, opposed to the traditional western thought that nothingness is an empty space, in Wabi-Sabi it is a place alive with possibility. The universe is in constant motion towards or away from potential.
Spiritually Values:Truth comes from the observation of nature, 'greatness' exists in the inconspicuous and overlooked details, beauty can be coaxed out of ugliness.
State of Mind:Acceptance of the inevitable. Wabi-Sabi is an aesthetic appreciation of the evanescence of life. Appreciation of the cosmic order - Wabi-Sabi suggests the subtlest realms and all the mechanics and dynamics of existence, beyond what our ordinary sense can perceive. Primordial forces are evoked in a similar way that medieval cathedrals were constructed to emotionally convey their respective cosmic themes.
Moral Precepts:Do away with all that is unnecessary, stop preoccupation with success, wealth, power and luxury. focus on the intrinsic and ignore material hierarchy.
'Material Poverty' / 'Spiritual Richness'.
Material Qualities:The suggestion of the natural process, irregular, intimate, unpretentious, earthy, murky, simple. The materials that things Wabi-Sabi are made elicit transcendent emotions to represent deep underlying physical forces and structure of everyday life.
The Wabi-Sabi Universe, Koren (1994:40-41).

There is no direct translation of "wabi" and "sabi"; and their original meanings have evolved over time like all cultures and languages. The original meaning of the word Wabi related to the loneliness of living in nature, remote from society: "Wabi originally meant the misery of living alone in nature, away from society, and suggested a discouraged, dispirited, cheerless emotional state. The self-imposed isolation and voluntary poverty of the hermit and ascetic came to be considered opportunities for spiritual richness. For the poetically inclined, this kind of life fostered an appreciation of minor details of everyday life and insights into the beauty of the inconspicuous and overlooked aspects of nature. In turn, unprepossessing simplicity took on new meaning as the basis of a new pure beauty" (Koren, 1994:22). Over time, Wabi has come to refer more to the simple, understated and quiet (and the uniqueness of the minute flaws and anomalies that come in the process of production) found in both natural and man-made objects. 'Sabi' originally meant "chill", "lean" or "withered" and over time has come to refer to the serene beauty found in the 'timeworn' - the history of an object, or person, visible in its timeworn surfaces (faded, cracked, repaired patinas, the wrinkled skin warts and all). The two words together ‘wabi-sabi’ come to mean embracing and aesthetic appreciation of ageing, flaws, and the beauty of the undeniable effects of time and imperfections.

Wabi (refers to)Sabi (refers to)
A way of life, a spiritual pathMaterial objects
The inward, the subjectiveThe outward, the objective
A philosophical constructAn aesthetic ideal
Spatial EventsTemporal Events
The Wabi and Sabi Charateristics, Koren (1994:23).

Koren, Leonard (1994) Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers. California: Imperfect Publishing.
Juniper, Andrew (2003) Wabi Sabi: The Japanese Art of Japanese of Impermanence. Tuttle Publishing



Buddhism is more a philosophy than a religion as it does not have core beliefs about a creator god or gods - it's founder, Siddhartha Gautama (which translates as ‘perfect fulfilment’), did not have a mystical vision or revelations from a 'higher' being. His teachings are conclusions after long periods of meditation. Born approximately 2,500 years ago in Nepal, Siddhartha was born a prince in a life of luxury and was shielded from seeing any pain or suffering outside the palace walls. As he grew older, out of curiosity he left the palace gates for a trip around the city with his chariot driver Channa and witnessed what became known as 'The Four Sights':

  • The first sight was an old man. Siddhartha had never seen old people. Channa explained people physically decline as they age.
  • The second sight was illness. Siddhartha became upset at seeing roadside illness. Channa explained that, during their lives, people get ill.
  • The third sight was a dead person being carried. Channa explained that everyone dies eventually.
  • The fourth sight was a holy man walking through the street. Siddhartha became curious as the holy man was looking to understand 'truth'.

Wanting to understand suffering and if it could be ended, Siddhartha left his family and gave up his wealth to go out into the world in search of answers. Siddhartha became an ascetic, he tried disciplined meditation, prolonged fasting but only found he further suffered. Succumbing to rice, but none the wiser, he concluded there must be a 'middle way', between poverty and luxury. Siddhartha continued to meditate and eventually became 'enlightened'. He then became known as the Buddha, which means ‘enlightened one’.

'Dhamma' means the truth about existence. Dhamma is also the teachings of the Buddha, for example, the Noble Eightfold Path and the Four Noble Truths. The Buddha’s teachings are intended to relieve suffering, and many Buddhists feel these teachings help them deal with 'negative' aspects of life. The Dhamma is also seen as a refuge, The Buddha taught that people take refuge in things that are not helpful and actually cause suffering, for example, material possessions.

DEPENDENT ARISING: Buddhists believe in a concept called 'paticca-samuppada' or 'dependent arising', which explains the idea of reality by suggesting everything is dependent on something else to exist - that nothing in life is permanent and nothing lasts forever and everything is dependent upon other things – for example, trees give out oxygen, which humans need to breathe in order to stay alive, and trees also take in the carbon dioxide we breathe out and convert it into oxygen.

The Wheel of Life (fig.1) shows the idea of dependent arising through the form of images. One part of the wheel shows old age and death. Buddhists believe in the cycle of 'samsara', which is a continuous cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth. Therefore, this part of the wheel demonstrates the idea that nothing stays the same and everything is always changing. Buddhists aim to break out of the cycle of samsara as they believe that this is where suffering happens and therefore freedom from samsara means an end to suffering. Buddhists also aim to understand the relationship between desire and suffering. They believe that desire leads to suffering because we attach ourselves to things in life that bring about suffering. Buddhists believe that if they follow the teachings of the Buddha they will no longer suffer and will achieve 'nibbana' (nirvana).

The Three Marks of Existence

Buddhists believe that there are three characteristics that are common across everything in life. These are known as the Three Marks of Existence. The Three Marks of Existence are important as they can help Buddhists to achieve nibbana and end suffering. They are called dukkha, anatta and anicca.

Mark of ExistenceMeaningExplanation
DukkhaFrustration /
dissatisfaction / suffering
People usually do not achieve complete satisfaction as everything has limitations, which causes them to be dissatisfied.
AnattaNo soulThere is no fixed sense of self because everything is constantly changing. Another way of expressing this is the idea that people have no soul.
AniccaImpermanenceThings in life are always changing. Nothing stays the same as everything is subject to change.

Dukkha is important so as to understand and accept that suffering exists. Buddhists must also strive to end suffering by understanding why people suffer. Suffering comes from craving things and also from events in a person's life, such as birth, old age and death. People go through various types of suffering. Buddhists try to realise that people cannot hold on to everything in life as this will bring about suffering.

Anatta is the idea that humans have no soul or self. The Buddha taught that people have no soul because nothing is permanent and everything changes. We can only come closer to enlightenment when we accept that we are changing beings.

A monk called Nagasena visited King Milinda. Nagasena gave his name but then told the king that this was just his name and not his real person. The king was confused and so Nagasena asked the king how he had arrived at their meeting place. When the king answered that he had arrived on a chariot, Nagasena asked the king to show him what a chariot was. The king pointed to the chariot. However, Nagasena explained that the chariot was just a collection of parts, such as wheels and a seat. He then compared himself to the chariot, saying that he too - the person called ‘Nagasena’ - was just a collection of parts. He wanted the king to understand that the chariot and a human are just collections of parts. For example, a human has a head, heart, lungs, legs and other parts, and the name of the person is the owner of these parts. However, the person only exists because the parts all exist together. There is no separate soul or self that is separate from these parts.

Anicca is the concept that nothing stays the same and everything is always changing. This concept is also known as 'impermanence'. Buddhists must accept that nothing can stay how it is – everything must move on or change. For example, once a human is born, they will grow and develop and eventually become an adult until at some point they will no longer exist. Everyone grows older and changes. The Buddha taught that people suffer because they cannot accept change. He believed that people can only come closer to enlightenment when they accept that they are changing beings.

The Four Noble Truths

Discovered by the Buddha during his enlightenment. Many Buddhists consider the Four Noble Truths to be the main elements of the teachings of the Buddha. Many Buddhists believe that everything is the result of existing conditions (in other words, everything comes from something else). Therefore, something must cause suffering to exist and if the cause of suffering is removed, then the suffering will be stopped. The Buddha taught that the Noble Eightfold Path (magga - the fourth Noble Truth), is the way to end suffering. If a Buddhist can understand suffering and accept that it is possible to stop it, then they can look for a way to end it.

Noble TruthBuddhist wordMeaning
The truth of sufferingDukkhaAccepting that all life is impermanent and imperfect, and that it involves suffering (frustration or dissatisfaction).
The truth of the origin of sufferingSamudayaKnowing that there are things in life that cause suffering, for example, desire, which is the need for things to be a certain way.
The truth of the end of sufferingNirodhaUnderstanding that suffering can be ended if we detach ourselves from craving and desire.
The truth of the path to the end of sufferingMaggaKnowing that there is a way to end suffering: the Noble Eightfold Path.

Dukkha:  is the idea that everyone suffers and that suffering is part of the world. Buddhists believe in the cycle of samsara, which is the cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth. This means that people will experience suffering many times over. All of the things a person goes through in life cause suffering and they cannot do anything about it. Instead, they have to accept that it is there. People may use temporary solutions to end suffering, such as doing something they enjoy. However, this does not last forever and the suffering can come back when the enjoyment ends. Buddhists want to work to try to stop suffering. However, the first step is to acknowledge that there is suffering - it happens and it exists.

Samudaya: is the concept that something causes suffering to happen. For example, when a person is ill, they can only end the illness by understanding the cause. To do this, they may go to see a doctor, who may be able to diagnose the problem. This enables them to begin to understand the cause of their suffering. Similarly, the Buddha taught that people need to understand the cause of suffering in order to move forward and leave it behind. The Buddha believed that most suffering is caused by a tendency to crave or desire things. A person might crave something nice to eat or desire to go on a nice holiday or earn lots of money. Buddhism teaches that through being dissatisfied with their lives and craving things, people suffer. If Buddhists want to end suffering, they should search for ways to avoid ignorance, hatred and cravings. If they can do this then they will become free from samsara and reach enlightenment.

Nirodha: is knowing that suffering can end. Buddhists must recognise that there is a way to stop suffering and move away from it because by doing this they can get closer to reaching enlightenment. Buddhism teaches that people should not be too focused on wanting many different things as the enjoyment won’t last. Buddhists must try to stop craving as much as they can in order to work to end suffering.

Magga: is that there is a way to end suffering. Buddhists can do many things to end suffering, such as following the Buddha’s teachings and meditating. The Buddha also taught that people should live the Middle Way. This is the path that falls between the two extremes of luxury and poverty. Another term for the Middle Way is the Noble Eightfold Path, which consists of eight steps that Buddhists can follow to end suffering.


  • Right View
  • Right Resolve
  • Right Speech
  • Right Action
  • Right Livelihood
  • Right Effort
  • Right Mindfulness
  • Right Concentration

THREE POISONS: The image of the Wheel of Life (Fig.1) contains a pig, a cockerel and a snake which are known as the Three Poisons because they represent the ways in which humans behave. The pig represents ignorance, the cockerel represents cravings and greed, and the snake represents anger and hate. A Buddhist can ‘blow out’ (like a candle) the Three Poisons of greed, hatred and ignorance (the three things that perpetuate human suffering). In other words, when we let go of the destruction that craving causes, we allow our minds to be freed from unhappiness. This makes it possible to reach enlightenment.

Fig.1: The Buddhist Wheel of Life, Unknown Artist. Available at: https://meditateinla.org/events/wheel-of-life/

Life and teachings of the Buddha. BBC [online] Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/guides/zd8bcj6/revision/1



Fig.1: Odette England, 2021. Print buried 2018, dug up 2021. (36x48")

I had a video chat with Laura Hynd today about my project intentions and, vague as they are, I was encouraged it appears to make sense to someone other than myself. Underpinned by the idea of a 'fusion with nature' and a 'return to the source', one aspect of the project is about connecting to my new home in the Cornish landscape. Cornwall has a rich mystical history, it is a land of many myths, legends and folklore, and it is also home to countless Neolithic and stone age historical sites. I am thinking about the visualising of a metaphysical connection by focusing on metaphors that speak philosophically about principles in wabi-sabi (impermanence, incompleteness, imperfection). It is likely the work will start by focusing on timeworn surfaces of ancient monuments and relics, through which the principles in wabi-sabi can be visually referenced. I also explained that I was starting to think about how I could add physicality to my printmaking by embedding 'traces of nature' and the 'fleetingness of time'. I noticed Odette England recently posted a print on Instagram (fig.1) which she had buried and dug up and a few years later which binds the idea of nature and time.

I have approximately 6 months before I need to submit this work for assessment and it was agreed I should spend the next month or so researching ideas but also thinking about the physicality of the output. I think the principles of wabi-sabi will be a key informing context to my work and whilst an enigmatic subject, I will spend the next few posts trying to articulate what is understood by it and how it relates to my work.



Nic Shonfeld, 2019. Untitled in Tam Dao

By 2015, I had fallen out with photography, become disenchanted with life in England and grown over-sensitive to what you could call 'aestheticized materiality' and the 'cacophony of constant modern input'. I had friends in Vietnam who I'd previously visited during which time I grew attached to the idea of also moving there. I sold everything I owned and moved to Vietnam in search of a nature-based and more spiritually aware lifestyle. During a brief visit back to the UK, the Coronavirus lockdown was imposed and I've not been able to return. At times I've really struggled with the uncertainty and frustration of being stuck between different mental and physical places but it has really been drummed home that life is simply far too ephemeral and impermanent to not live in the present, to accept, embrace and flow with it, or as Bruce Lee famously said: "be like water".

Through being a long term admirer of Masao Yamamoto's spiritual and nature-based work, I learned about the philosophical concepts and aesthetics of wabi-sabi. Wabi-Sabi is the Japanese derivative of the ancient Buddhist concept of the Three Marks of Existence which is, essentially, about accepting and embracing 'impermanence', 'incompleteness' and 'imperfection'. In the introduction to Masao Yamamoto's Small Things in Silence (2020), Jacobo Siruela articulates how it is only through impermanence and the ambivalence between what is desirable and non-desirable, that beauty (the central enigma of art - 'the goal never attained') emanates from an interminable chain of being. Impermanence and fluidity in nature represent beauty as the opposite of our artificial technologized world.

I now live in Cornwall surrounded by ancient rugged land and oceans, with which I feel an affinity and want to connect with visually, almost by way of finding a sense of 'forgiveness' of my homeland with which I became disenchanted with. I am just starting the FMP (final major project) of my MA. This condensed backstory of a desire to escape the noise, immerse myself in nature, connect with my new home and reflect on the philosophical principles of wabi-sabi in relation to nature and the fluidity of time is the impetus for the new work. Surely now more than ever, embracing a return to our origins in nature is vital to the modern psyche after being locked up in isolation for well over a year.

Yamamoto, Masao. (2020) Small Things in Silence. RM Verlag SL; 1st edition.

2021 © Nic Shonfeld