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.

In Small Things in Silence, 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.” (in Yamamoto, 2020). This quote has informed my work since its inception. These sentiments are echoed in Awoiska van der Molen's statement for The Living Mountain: ‘Regardless of how personal the starting point of my work may be, in the end, I hope my images touch the strings of a universal knowledge, something lodged in our bodies, our guts, an intuition that reminds us of where we came from ages ago. A memory of our core existence, our bedrock, unyielding certainty in a very precarious world’. (van der Molen, 2020). It is this elemental lost world of our natural origins, I too wish my audience to visit emotionally. In this emotional state, we can philosophically reflect on the concepts in wabi-sabi (impermanence, imperfection, incompleteness) where all things are metaphysically either heading towards or emanating from 'nothingness' - we can take wisdom from this to resolve mental health challenges and promote wellbeing and mindfulness by staying in the 'present'. We can also reflect on the reciprocity of our relationship with nature during precarious times.

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.