ENSŌ Series - Artist Statement


Ensō, November 2021, Unique gelatin silver print, 18' x 22'

My work in quarantine offered the removal of life’s distractions: the time and focus to embark on a long desired path - to work camera-less. 

For the past many years I’ve been heading in the direction of trying to simplify my photographic practice to the bare essentials. My two recent projects, Kalós and -+-=+, were the beginning of the journey in this direction.  Working with my 8x10 camera, photographing by exposing directly on paper thus producing unique paper negatives was liberating.   Producing images solely through the actions of light and chemistry has been a kind of grail and, as I had hoped, holds many rewards.  I have waited for over the 50 years I have been photographing to attempt this “simple” process, and as you might expect, it has been most challenging. 

The word ENSŌ in Japanese refers to a circle that is hand drawn, usually in one single brushstroke and one single breathe. The ENSŌ circle can be open or closed representing “complete” or “incompleteness” the beauty of “perfection” or “imperfection”. The ENSŌ circle itself also symbolizes the complete cycle of life, birth, death and rebirth. The ENSŌ can express our totality of being. It is the direct expression of this moment-as-it-is. It is believed that the character of the artist is fully exposed in the way their ENSŌ is drawn.

ENSŌ circles can range in shape from perfectly symmetrical to completely irregular, with brushstrokes either thin and delicate or broad and massive. To draw a “true” ENSŌ, Zen Buddhists believe you need to be completely mentally and spiritually complete. Focus and meditation is the central way to achieve this.

Not claiming to have attained any of the traits mentioned above, I have been practicing drawing ENSŌ daily in the darkroom. Using the tools of the Zen Calligrapher, various brush types and the chemistry of the photographer, I have been exposing photographic paper and brushing on chemistry under a dim safelight. Sometimes fixer other times developer.   The technique varies in realizing the image. My ENSŌ images are made more than a dozen ways. 

I consider these photographs/grams to be “Chemical Calligraphy”, unique, split toned gelatin silver prints. They do in every way represent my state of mind at the moment the brush touches the paper. They are as unique as our times.

David Scheinbaum, Santa Fe, NM