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