Shingan photography is a unique style of photographic art that I developed during my travels to Japan. It derives from the ancient Japanese art of sumi-e (ink wash) painting, which is spiritually rooted in Zen Buddhism. The earliest practitioners of sumi-e were monks trained in the regimens of clarity and simplicity and it is these same disciplines that form the foundation of this style of my work.
The ultimate aim of shingan photography is to reveal the essence of the subject rather than its semblance. What I mean by this is, imagine comparing the photograph in your passport with a compelling portrait of you. The photograph in your passport shows what you look like – the semblance of you – but reveals nothing about your character and personality – who you really are or, in other words, the essence of you. A great portrait, on the other hand, has a deeply connected energy through which your soul is exposed.
This engagement with the creative flow means approaching photography with a very different temperament to the point-and-shoot mentality often associated with the medium. In creating a shingan photograph, I first enter a fully mindful state, becoming present in the moment with no attachment to any particular outcome. This leaves my mind open to all potentialities, energising the creative input.
Visual ideas are then honed in my mind – a practice known as visualisation – before I commit them to the digital sensor through the release of the shutter. The camera’s two controlling functions – lens aperture and shutter speed – are fundamental to this process, as I envision how tiny shifts in either one will affect the play of light in the final print.
This highest refinement in technique is then combined with personal emotional and philosophical elements so the artistic expression – the photograph – comes freely without concern for craft. This is the reason it’s vital I master my camera and I’m able to use it instinctively. For the same reason, within its limitations, the image must be created in-camera, so as not to disrupt the flow of energy, which would impact on the authenticity of the moment.
The final piece, then, is a literal coming together of the hand, the eye and the heart and, as the Japanese monks would say, must be seen “in the eye of your soul”, which, in Japan, is called shingan – shin meaning ‘heart’ and gan meaning ‘eye’.