Category: Part 5

Rinko Kawauchi: Illuminance, Ametsuchi, Seeing Shadow – Book

I have become really intrigued by the work of Rinko Kawauchi since encountering her in connection with this course.  I had not otherwise heard of her before.  Is it not interesting how sometimes you can come across an artist who appeals deeply quite by chance and you are left wondering why you did not know about them already?  The same thing happened to me with Hiroshi Sugimoto.  I discovered him, even more by chance, walking past a gallery in Edinburgh where there was a show of his seascapes, and went in with a simple sense of curiosity.  From that moment I have loved his work.  (There, it is not just American photographers who appeal!)  Kawauchi-san falls into the same category, partly because her work seems to resonate with that of Sugimoto.

This book was originally published to accompany an exhibition of her work at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography in 2012 and draws on work from the three series in the title, together with the works Iridescence (which was the originally proposed title for Illuminance) and In a Box which I understand were put together for this exhibition, so offers a good overview of her work.

What I find particularly appealing is her sense of light.  Much of the work is overexposed, as with the flower in Illuminance, so that it is tentative and sometimes a little sketchy, but nevertheless subtle and with a strong sense of (subdued) colour.  Although often very pale they never seem cold.  Many have a strong sense of intimacy.

The photos apart, what particularly caught my eye is a couple of comments in one of he accompanying essays which speak of Kawauchi-san’s approach to image making:

“I don’t make works that are documentary , or true-to-the-fact in nature.  Every time I make a book, I leave out any elements that indicate a certain location.  Actually, I consciously choose motifs that are devoid of obvious clues to locations seen when photographing.”

“…the photographs transcend the flow of time.  They present images that are timeless and placeless, they contain the reality that I personally see.”

(Both, page 125.)

I had not read any of this before I wrote my previous post in which I considered her work but it seems from this that my assessment of and reaction to her work was not too far wide of the mark.

I have a funny feeling about this work that is hard to put into words.  Coming across Kawauchi-san’s work is not quite a road to Damascus experience for me but nevertheless it does feel significant from the point of view of the development of my own artistic voice.  There is something in her work and her approach to and philosophy behind her photography that is particular appealing and seems to resonate with me.  I am still trying to make sense of this but there is a clue in another of those odd coincidences, chance encounters, that I talked about in the opening paragraph above.  In the same essay in which the two passages quoted above appears Kawauchi-san mentions that she thought of the possible title of Iridescence having come across the word when reading a poem by Kenji Miyazawa.  Miyazawa is perhaps not well-known in the west but after Basho is probably the most important, and best known poet from Japan, certainly the most important of the 20th century and widely read in Japan.  He was very much influenced in his writing by that characteristically Japanese approach to Buddhism, Zazen, and it was through the practice of Zen Buddhism that I first became aware of his work.  The key focus in Zen is on the moment – in its own right and on its own terms.  It is a moment out of time and eternal.  Applied to photography, an image captures that very instant, that eternal moment, free from narrative and from context.  Of course, in so many ways this goes contrary to what this course is teaching but nevertheless this is something, a philosophy of photography, that I find deeply appealing and ‘true’.

As I say, I have a funny feeling about this work and expect that it is going to have an important impact on my own work.  That is not to say that I propose to emulate the pictures that Kawauchi-sensei (as perhaps I should now address her, recognising her influence on me) makes but there are elements of her approach that I can see having an effect on what I do in future.  Already she has helped to shape some of my ideas about Assignment 5, which I am now beginning to work on, and of which more later.

Kawauchi, R (2012).  Illuminance, Ametsuchi, Seeing Shadow.  Kyoto: Seigensha Art Publishing


Part 5 Project 2 – Fantasy shooting modes

For Exercise 5.2 I set the camera to AV, aperture priority mode, as depth of field was the most important technical consideration for me in making this shot.  I wanted the main sign to dominate the field of focus and act as a barrier to see clearly further into the space.  I wanted everything else to be slightly less distinct, congruent with its physical inaccessibility. An aperture of f/5.6 gave a shallow depth of field that seemed to achieve the desired effect.

In an ideal world what preset modes would I want on my camera?  In some ways I would be happy with little more than Manual as I am now using this setting more often on my DSLR and is effectively all I am working with on my film cameras, my Leica and the new 4×5.  That said, I would ago for:  TA – Technical Ability which enables the camera to take the perfect shot every time!  Otherwise, V – Verity or Truth.

Part 5 Project 2 – Photography as information 2

Again, still waiting for Flusser’s book to arrive but subject to actually reading it I think his observation and comparison with writing is correct.  This is something that applies to any visual art, as Berger observes.  The final sentence of the paragraph cited in the course material, but which is not quoted, is, I think, particularly pertinent:

“The painting maintains its own authority.”

The image stands for itself and on its own terms, despite the passage of time, and does not need words to validate or justify it.  This seems to chime with what Benjamin has to say about stories.

That does not mean though that an image is immutable, that it is not capable of rereading or reinterpretation over time, as we saw in Barrett’s article.  That would, for me at least, reinforce the argument that photographs are like stories. But, like stories, they can be retold in different times and places to produce different outcomes or messages.  They can also be reordered and looked at in different sequences to produce something new.

As an aside, I was intrigued by Frank’s work being referred to in the context of time being closed in a circle.  I had not previously thought of this so have gone back to his book and a couple of thoughts now occur to me.  One is that I already knew that there were a number of recurring themes or subjects in the book, such as cars, American flags, and social separation or differences.  What I had not noticed before is the way they recur in a sort of cyclical way, though I would say it is more of an irregular spiral than a circle.  More importantly though, from a temporal point of view, is that none of the pictures are dated in their captions.  In a way they have been placed out of linear time and have become, in a way, timeless.  It strikes me that many of his photos might well appear very similar if they were taken today, despite all the so-called advances in American society (which is not a sense I get from, for example, William Klein, whose work, strangely, looks more dated now).


Berger, J, (1972).  Ways of Seeing.  London:  Penguin.

Frank, R (2016).  The Americans.  Göttingen: Steidl

Klein, W, (2016).  Life is Good & Good for You in New York.  New York:Errata Editions

Exercise 5.3

I have looked again at HCB’s iconic photo in my copy of The Decisive Moment, which is helpfully in quite a large format and therefore easier to “read” than on a computer screen. Is there a single pivotal point?  For me, no, but there a limited number that continually draw my eye back in: the leaping man; the near contact of his heel with its reflection in the water; the ripples indicating the mover of the ladder like structure from which the man has just leapt; the “c” shape towards the bottom of the frame that seems to point to the man’s reflection, which in turn draws attention back to the man himself.

Each, I think contains information that relates to the story, or stories, that the image is purporting to tell, different parts of the story that go to make up the whole.  Leaving aside my scepticism about the way HCB says this image was made and my concerns about the Decisive Moment, it is as a story that I read this picture.  Although it freezes one particular instant in time, the moment just before the leaping man comes back to earth, there is clearly a suggestion of a narrative.  The ripples in the water show that the ladder has just moved, presumably as the man leapt off it, so we know that he has moved across the view from left to right.  The sequence of events is about to continue in that direction and out of the frame with the moment when his foot reconnects first with the water and then, presumably, more solid ground beneath.  It looks as if he is going to get a wet foot!  How many more times is he going to have to stride out again before reaching dry ground?  Is his other foot going to get as wet?

What this little story does not do is explain or even hint at what this man is doing here in the first place.  It raises plenty of questions.  Why is he in what looks like a building site when he does not appear to be dressed as a worker?  Why is he trying to leap across a puddle that is apparently too big to be cleared?  Why did he not go round the edge, which would presumably have been possible as there is what appears to be a workman in the background by the railings suggesting there was some dry ground?  Has HCB been telling porkie pies for the sake of an intriguing and arresting image?  In the light of the implicit unlikelihood and incomprehensibility of this scene in the absence of answers to the questions that would take us outside the frozen moment and fill out the ‘true’ story, is there in fact a story here at all?  Is it just a closed loop, a sort of visual Groundhog Day that recurs eternally without any real start or end?

I suppose my overall response to this photo is that while I am intrigued by it and find it both refreshing and interesting to look at it again, fundamentally I do not believe it or trust it as any sort of truth.  However, as is the case with many of my favourite paintings and other photos, generally it is neither the presence nor absence of a believable story that interests me but the image itself and what it contains on its own terms, as little more than a fragment in time.

Initially when I read this exercise I was unsure how Kawauchi and Sugimoto might fit into this discussion of this specific HCB photo.  I am still not completely sure but my thinking is taking me in the direction of a comment made by Sugimoto in the YouTube video in connection with his Theatres series:

“Too much information ends up as nothingness.”

Sugimoto’s pictures tell a story, from the dimming of the theatre lights to the rolling of the final credits, but he captures so much information, the entire film, that all that is left and visible is a blank, white screen.  To that extent it could be said the photo no longer tells a story – the telling of the story, the film, overwhelms the visual medium of the photograph.  In a sense therefore time stands moment becomes eternal.  I hope it is not stretching a point too far but I am thinking that this is not a million miles away from the effect of HCB’s image, which itself contains so much information, at least in the form of questions, that it too ceases to act as a story and becomes an endlessly recurring moment frozen in time.

What of Kawauchi?  I am not yet sufficiently familiar with the range of her work (to address this lack I have a book on order!) so do not feel confident commenting on anything other than the flower picture from Illuminance.  I think what this has in common with Behind Gare St Lazare is the existence of at least one pivotal point, to which the eye returns, specifically the intriguing shape, almost a ghost, of the flower.  Sugimoto also obviously has pivotal points, not least the blank expanse of the screen that dominates each scene, and the surrounding theatre itself which he describes as a case containing the nothingness.  In both cases it seems to me these points contain all of the information that is really needed in order to be able to comprehend the picture.

I do not though get any sense of narrative or a story in the flower photo.  I do not though think that this is what this work is about.  Rather it is about the fundamental nature of the flower; paradoxically in the context of an eternal, recurrent image of it, of its fragility and transience, and the photographer’s intimate relationship with it.  As with Sugimoto there is too much information for there to be an easily discernible story, too much information in the form of light that effectively washes out most of the detail of the flower.

Paradoxically I think that at the same time there is also too little other information, in the sense of the context in which the flower has been placed, to tell us anything else, which reinforces for me the sense that this is little more than a fleeting moment in time frozen and preserved by the camera.

And finally, what of my own work?  The one image that immediately comes to mind as it was itself partly inspired by Sugimoto and I can now see has some elements in common with Kawauchi, is this one from the last assignment:

There are a few pivotal points for me in the form of the legible art of the subtitle, the swirling pale mass in the middle of the scene, and what appears to be an arm and hand at the bottom of that mass.  The information contained within these points though varies.  The subtitle is the most explicit and points towards a story, explains what is happening here, though it gives little hint of the context of the film as a whole.  The others alone though I feel have more in common with Kawauchi’s flower and chime with Sugimoto’s comment:  there is too much information to be able to tell clearly what is going on.  No doubt if the exposure of this shot had gone on for longer than 30 seconds it would have produced even more “nothingness”.


Cartier-Bresson, H, (2014).  The Decisive Moment.  Göttingen: Steidl.