Illuminance marks the first international publication of Japan’s premier contemporary photographer, Rinko Kawauchi. Splashed across high-quality pages, her aesthetics travel and translate well – after all, the unadulterated beauty of her chosen subjects speaks a universal language
Back in 1841, Fox Talbot – inventor of the still-in-use negative/positive film development process – patented his discovery as Calotype, inspired by kali, the Greek term for beauty. In her seminal tome On Photography, American essayist Susan Sontag extolled the virtues of photography as the most successful medium for reproducing beauty. According to Sontag, the history of photography can be summarised as an endless battle of imperatives: photography – a means to beautify, retouch and idealise the world – finds itself in constant conflict with the urge to document moments of truth.
Japanese photographer Rinko Kawauchi has chosen this particular visual battlefield for her own flavour of self-expression. Famous for images that combine the attraction of beauty with everyday existentialism, her restless eye and focus on the fleeting, inconsequential things in life helps to cast the seemingly familiar into sharp relief and presents it in an entirely new light.
“I prefer listening to the small voices in our world, those which whisper. I have a feeling I am always being saved by these whispers; my eyes naturally focus on small things.“
In her work, Rinko seems to see and discover the world around her through the eyes of a child. The perpendicular – and thus oblique – glance through her Rolleiflex viewfinder adds a furtive, almost anonymous quality to the results. Unlike the obvious photographer’s pose, camera held up against the eye, Rinko’s particular approach leaves many of her subjects oblivious to the photographic action. And this urge to remain in the shadows, to become invisible behind her tools of the trade, translates to an impressive body of almost weightless works.
Page by page, Illuminance invites discovery. Every turn of a double-paged spread reveals two 6x6 photographs, juxtaposed to ensure maximum contrast or utmost harmony: a dead bird, nailed to a wall, finds itself side-by-side with Mount Fuji’s iconic silhouette; sunny rays, filtered through treetops, are flanked by a tiny frog on an open hand; a transparent umbrella, glistening with raindrops, sidles up to a plastic bag filled with equally glistening pigs’ eyes. Taken together, this gentle, yet jarring visual tour de force whisks us away onto an illuminating stream of consciousness – one that addresses our innate sense of beauty, but also irritates with repelling images.
Rinko equates these pictures with memories, yet discounts the importance of personal experience:
“Each photograph is connected to personal memories of mine, but it is not important which are personal memories or not. I would like to see universality in my works. I believe that my personal memory can be connected to our subconsciousness.“
Rinko Kawauchi’s Japan debut dates back 15 years when she took the brave step to publish three books at once. Now, with her twelfth publication Illuminance set for international release, she seems destined to find her place on the shelves – and in the hearts – of discerning art lovers around the world.
“We see "Illuminance" in Japan – and anywhere else in the world as well.“
Rinko Kawauchi Illuminance
125 four-color images
Published by Aperture