Updated: Dec 4, 2022
For a while now I have been following the beautiful work of Kazutaka Shioi, a visual artist based in Fukuoka, Japan. I'd been admiring his intricate and unique works from afar, everything created with that very special Japanese sensitivity that feels so exotic to western eyes. As you can imagine, when Kazutaka approached me to ask if I would like to collaborate, I accepted with great delight. If you've been following my own work for any length of time you will know that I have been hugely influenced by Japanese art and culture for most of my life. I aim to evoke that same sensitivity to the environments that I find myself exploring. By working in this way I find that I can strip back landscape scenes to the most crucial elements. It's often a case of spending a lot of time really settling in to the energy of a particular landscape before even attempting to make a photograph. We must feel a connection to the location to portray anything of value, an image that will resonate.
Kazutaka's concept was simple, yet profound. Light captured from the selected location would be transferred to a stone. This light would then be present in physical form, something we can hold in our hands. When we have images that were made in such special locations that are dear to us, to be able to hold energy and light from that place is a magical idea.
These creations are known as Sha-ko-seki, or, Light Reflecting Stone.
I decided to select three photographs that were very bold and dramatic, with contrasting yet complimentary colour from locations I'd discovered that were meaningful to me.
The above image is titled 'Sanctuary'. The flow of water leads the viewer into Loch an Doire Dhuibh, which lies between Cùl Mòr (the mountain over the loch, shrouded in cloud) and Stac Pollaidh behind. The title of Sanctuary was an obvious choice. This place nestled between the wild mountain ranges feels very safe. I felt very grounded here and each time I visit I don't want to leave. The energy is powerful, healing even. My 'Scotland's Mountains' book also informed me that this location is a sanctuary for Red Deer. I've been here in Autumn and I recall one time I could hear the grunting of a stag which felt a little too close! When I looked around I couldn't see him, but that noise will stay with me. Thankfully however it's not difficult to witness Red Deer in this area and you're sure to see them at some point.
The above photo was my first visit to this wild yet comforting place deep in the heart of Assynt's characterful mountains, back in 2017, on the very day that I made the photograph. Clearly I felt the need to document my presence here! Writing this blog I know I must return soon.
Back to the Sha-ko-seki and this was the smallest of what would be three Light Reflecting Stones. Life can be very magical and serendipitous at times, occasionally mind blowingly so. I had been invited to lecture at Musashino Art University in Tokyo. Tokyo is a long way from Kazutaka's home in Fukuoka. The stars seemed to align for us however and it just so happened that Kazutaka would be exhibiting in Tokyo whilst I was there! We'd actually get to meet each other which we both found quite unbelievable! The photo below is our meeting and shows me holding the Sha-ko-seki stone of the light captured at the 'Sanctuary'. It was incredibly exciting to receive my first stone and they are a truly beautiful thing to behold.
Meeting up with Kazutaka at his exhibition in Tokyo.
Unfortunately due to baggage limits I would have to wait until I got home to see the rest of the Sha-ko-seki stones, which Kazutaka kindly posted. Being a photographer my suitcase etc were already on the limit, so the 'Sanctuary' stone, being the smallest and lightest would be the only one going home with me. But that gave me something to look forward to on my return.
Next up we have an old favourite photograph, 'Icon' - which was made at Wastwater in the Lake District. Whenever I get asked the question, what is your favourite photograph? This one always leaps to mind first. The boldness of these geometric rocks, the mood on the day, stood in a cold lake feeling blissful and deeply connected with the landscape. Having had plenty of time to relax, the narrative of the scene came freely to me. Although the distant mountains are shrouded in cloud, they are visible right before us within these rocks, which would have once been a part of these mountains and eroded over time. My idea was to represent the cyclical nature present here, and allude to the passing of time. This image was made in 2015. I've visited several times since, most recently last month. On my latest visit I decided to seek out these particular rocks. It took me some time to locate them and it struck me that they could so easily have been passed by. Although they look large and prominent in this photo they're actually fairly small. It really shows how important it is to be in the zone; to be relaxed and in tune with your environment. If we don't take the time to just 'be' and seek out these wonderful details, they can easily be missed. People often look at me strangely on workshops, when I say the most important thing in creating good photos is to be relaxed and in tune with your environment. Until you are in this state of 'zen' if you like, you are not ready to see fully.
The Sha-ko-seki stone of the light captured from 'Icon' is stunning. It's as if I am holding that landscape in my hands. Just as with prints, the stones look very different depending on the light. And similarly the stones and prints look most alive with some good bright but not too harsh daylight. Another comparison with prints, and a frustrating one for all artists, is that you just can't fully appreciate the beauty of these works from looking at a screen! Kazutaka and I have discussed the possibility of a joint exhibition so that people can see the stones and prints, in the flesh! Hopefully this will happen at some point in the not too distant future.
Lastly we have an image and stone from 'Lochan an Ais', which is actually not too far from where the image 'Sanctuary' was made, in magical Assynt. However, whereas Sanctuary involved an arduous hike over boggy moorland, this lochan was a drive by opportunity. As I was driving by we had these wonderfully 'blue hour' conditions. Often in scenarios such as this, we can be driving by, jump out of the car and have no foreground to make an image, so the experience is best just enjoyed for what it is, a beautiful moment. Thankfully this time I noticed this ice which makes for perfect foreground, nicely leading the viewer into the scene. Running over the heather down to the lochan side with camera, tripod and filters, I quickly set up for the shot, working fast in the fading light. Thankfully we were able to get the image, definitely worth the freezing fingers and toes. The vivid blues of the scene shine out from the tactile Sha-ko-seki stone. One can sit with the stones and in a meditative state be transported back to these magical locations. Once in our hands they are difficult to let go of. Just as I had imagined the concept would be, the simplest ideas are always the most rewarding.
I feel enormously privileged to have had this opportunity to collaborate with Kazutaka. And to have the chance to actually meet was simply awesome! I know we will collaborate again and I am excited to think about what we might come up with.
If you're feeling envious of my beautiful Sha-ko-seki stones, fear not! Kazutaka is now offering this service via his online shop. You simply upload your favourite photo/location plus a few details such as the grid reference, which allows Kazutaka to create a global database.
You too can then own your own Sha-ko-seki: Light Reflecting Stone. You can visit Kazutaka's shop here.
A really interesting feature as I mentioned is the global database of Sha-ko-seki stones that Kazutaka is building which you can view on the World Map here. If like me, you love maps, I think you will this fascinating!
Kazutaka Shioi on Instagram here.
I hope you enjoyed reading more about our collaboration!