By  David Goh

The Way of Tea, 茶道.

The Way of Tea, 茶道.

Harmony, respect, purity, tranquillity.

Four principles synonymous with the Buddhist philosophy of zen – but also with the sacred tea ceremonies of Japan.

And the same four principles espoused by David Goh in his latest collaborative project. The Way of Tea is a photo series exploring the spaces and art of performance during a Japanese tea ceremony. Through his signature style of black and white photography, the Singaporean photographer melds movement with stillness; power with passivity, in a stunning tableau of light and dark.

As per centuries-old tradition, the quiet beauty of the tea ceremony has less to do with actual tea leaves than the personal journey the guest takes, upon first arriving at the tea house.

At the door, no hosts await to greet them. Instead, guests are guided through a series of doors to a waiting room, where they get a first taste of the water that will be used in the tea making. Then begins a silent passage through the garden of the tea house, before finally being received by their host, and brought into the tea room.

Spatial awareness is of the essence. Every step in the journey towards the tea room is purposeful; and so are the textures of Goh’s expert shadow play. Such are they complemented – by the pleats of Issey Miyake, the strong silhouettes from Yohji Yamamoto, and the heaving drapes of fabric a la Comme Des Garçons.

The Way of Tea, then, is every bit an homage to these three great Japanese designers of the 80’s, as it is to the gentle tea ceremony their culture honours.

Inside the tea room, civilities remain. There is bowing, and kneeling, and a respectful hush for when the host performs the tea brewing. The entire ceremony requires a mutual regard, between host and guest, for the process that is equal parts sensual and spiritual. The Japanese aesthetic is simple but beautiful, in a way much of the world has forgotten to value. When the ceremony is over, both parties retire, somewhat changed.

The Japanese have always been notoriously committed, in their instillment of desirable characteristics – courtesy, appreciation, beauty, humility, kindness. They’re no different with their tea. Perhaps only when one leaves with newfound growth, having not tasted but felt the spirit of the ceremony, does one genuinely comprehend the way of tea.

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