In Plato’s Meno, a poetic assertion was proposed by Socrates that a Man’s soul has acquired knowledge of all things prior to birth and thus what one perceives to be learning in life is not the acquisition of unknown knowledge, but recollection or recovery of knowledge already known. In response, he was challenged by Meno with a paradox; How does one search for something that is unknown to you when you do not know at all what it is?

Conceivably, there is a mystery to this unknown entity and that this mystery can act as a compass guiding you through the seemingly unknown. 

Mystery Is A Compass delves into that theory with the disappearance of 20-year-old Everett Ruess. He was last seen in November 1934 heading into Davis Gulch off Escalante in Utah, USA. A boy utterly consumed by the wild desert landscape on a metaphysical quest in search of the unknown, rare indeed was his ability to sense beauty so acutely that it bordered on pain. A penniless romantic, he wandered through the terra incognita of the land and proclaimed in his letters to the outside world: “I have seen almost more beauty than I can bear.” 

Using the pairing of images and text, I attempt to (re)present the emotions that Everett felt through his letters that were left behind. By embodying the character, I have retraced Everett’s steps in search of symbolisms within the mystery, rejuvenating his experiences of reality and enabling it to be encountered through (re)enchanted eyes.

Book Specifications


52pp french-fold book.

150mm x 210mm

Digital Offset Printing and hand-bound.

40 hand-numbered copies, Duende Print

Publication Date: May 2018

Design and Production: Jonathan Liu

Each book includes a vintage bulldog clip.


Investigators that were sent in search of him found what looked like a campsite with some of his supplies. Further along the canyon was an arch with an enigmatic inscription at the base which read, “Nemo, 1934”. In Latin, Nemo translates to “No One”. Perhaps it was the last act of poetry by Everett. He had a tendency to change his name and took on several personas over the years and some have speculated that it had derived from Captain Nemo, a character in Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. A man who was driven by a hatred of imperialism, he was determined to escape the disappointments and frustrations of civilization. He cruised around the world in a submarine with the motto “Mobilis in Mobile”, freely translated to “Free in a Free World”.

It mirrored Everett’s personal views of society on a whole, even possessing the characteristics of being solitary, arrogant and sensitive. But above anything else, Everett was free. During his solipsistic quest, he had a tendency towards impetuosity, taking risks in search of uncovering mysteries unknown to anyone else. Intrigued by the wilderness, he yearned for the emotional equilibrium of a primordial lifestyle with the fundamental beauty of a journey into Being. 

I followed his route to the southern Utah desert seeking a deeper understanding of what his motivations were, and to witness the beauty that ultimately consumed him. In many ways I admired his bravery and selfishness while simultaneously empathising with his inability to find the companionship he so craved. The only physical legacy he had left behind is in the form of a drive-through fast food restaurant in Escalante named Nemo’s. It serves as a classic campfire tale to remind travellers of his overwhelming adventurous spirit. 

Photographs are symbolic in a way where we do not see the world in them, but concepts in the world. I stood within the landscape that enchanted him and all I could see were his ghosts taking the forms of petrified trees or the darkness and shadows in a cave. He is omnipresent. I’m not fixated with capturing the moment but rather to present the temporal qualities of the sublime experience that he deeply desired. But desire is full of endless distances that one never arrives in. 

The photographer, like the poet that Everett was, has no fixed identity. And through his writings we will gain insight into the mysterious character of his reality. 

Nothing is as unmediated as the end of life; it is the only event one faces alone. Death’s truth is the unknown, and perhaps the lure of life’s mysteries eventually took over and solidified his destiny no less in exaltation. In his own words; “I have known too much of the depths of life already, and I would prefer anything to an anti-climax.” Perhaps disappearing was the only transcendental act he had left.