I had been immersed in the study of Japanese aesthetics with the acclaimed Tea Master, Shozo Sato, when I closed my Aikido school in Fort Bragg, California. The population was too small to support the school. I had been unable to travel because I had to teach every week. I was yearning for both travel and wilderness time, so I went to Patagonia with my new digital point-and-shoot camera. After a few months I returned and began working on my photos.
Under Sato sensei I would paint (either semi-e or shodo) several attempts with ink on newsprint, then, once I had the concept and feel of the brush and ink, I would attempt a final painting on rice paper. I would paint as many versions as I felt I could afford on the expensive paper, then we would lay them across the dojo floor and begin the vetting process. In the end there would be one, two or maybe, if lucky, three "keepers." The final process was to decide where to place the chop. The chop is the traditional stamp of authorship in Asian paper arts and documents. In works of art on paper, the chop also serves to compliment and balance--to add the finishing touch--to the work. Sato sensei taught me how to carve my own stamp on the end of a block of soapstone and how to load it with cinnabar paste and precisely stamp the finished piece.
So, as I completed the cropping and adjustments to my images, the thought always came to my mind, "OK, now, where do I put the chop?" I decided, "Why not?" and put a chop on a photograph and I loved it. It seemed to tie everything together for me, And I placed the chop on my photos for years.
Now I understand that not everyone wants that Asian element on the image, and I offer my prints with or without the chop, as the customer desires.
I continue to sign the photographs right on the image, whether there is a chop or not. If there is a chop, then my signature is vertically oriented, above the chop. This mimics the "grass style" of calligraphy found on many asian paintings.