Kyotographie — the brainchild of photographer Lucille Reyboz and lighting artist Yusuke Nakanishi — is 5 this year. Conceived and nurtured in Kyoto, it is now one of few substantial photography festivals in Japan, inarguably rivaling, even surpassing, many of the country’s other calendar art events. The present manifestation of the festival celebrates its anniversary, the field of photography and all those who helped make the event possible.
Fittingly monumental, the theme is “love.” This was decided a year ago owing to the perennial problems engaging the world: social, environmental, conflictual. Love appealed as a motif and message around which the organizers believe a diverse audience can unify. They sought a conceptual love story with an evolution branching into different perspectives built on divergent experiences.
Pivotal is Spaniard Isabel Munoz, whose “Family Album” series focuses on affections between gorillas and bonobos in a return to a supposed simplicity observed in nature. A thematic correlate, though lighter in touch, will be a one-off comedic theatrical performance on April 21 that features a romance between two gorillas separated by the geography of Kyoto and Tokyo zoos. Munoz’s further humanly complicated “Love and Ecstasy” series deals with an origin of love in those who push themselves to bodily extremes in the service of a god or spirituality.
French photographer Raphael Dallaporta is concerned with some of humankind’s first expressions of its fascination with itself and animals in nature. He was permitted two three-hour shifts documenting 36,000-year-old paintings in the Chauvet Cave in southern France, a World Heritage site normally closed to the public. Combining the primitive with the technological present, his exhibit is a 12-by-4-meter high arching screen of Sony panels.
Toiletpaper, Italians Maurizio Cattelan and Pierpaolo Ferrari, have created a love hotel-styled installation in Kyoto’s expensive and frequently red-light tinged Gion district. Despite the apparent Ferrari-BMW conflict of names, they have also decorated this year’s BMW art car, the festival’s principal sponsor, in their trademark spaghetti designs. The BMW i3 is a 95 percent recycled eco car that also celebrates the 20th anniversary of the Kyoto Protocol. The earlier Andy Warhol BMW is on display in the kitchen of Nijo Castle.
A further extreme of love is the display of Robert Mapplethorpe’s photography drawn from his foremost private collector, Peter Marino. Mapplethorpe’s pictures have endlessly courted endless global controversies over decades for his often frank portrayals of human bodies in provocative displays of sexuality.
Among the Japanese photographers of note is Chikako Yamashiro, who deals with art using nature and history, often looking at the American Occupation of Okinawa in the post-World War II period and the ongoing base conflicts there today. Of particular note is a kind of shamanism through which she captures the people’s deep connections to their previous generations, their expressions of love, and their voices in history. One projection video installation shows the artist’s face though the voice-over is that of a man who talks of watching his mother and sister commit suicide
The erotic provocateur, Nobuyoshi Araki, has in recent years been seriously ill with cancer and cannot easily move around. Still, he continues his passion for photography with the Japan premiere of his recent series, “A Desktop Love.” Araki combines human figurines with flowers in paradisaical scenes (expectantly, perhaps, in occasionally sexual ways) on a table and documents the arrangements. Displayed in Kenninji Temple, they are augmented with the photographer’s recent calligraphies on hanging scrolls. One reads “1, 2, 3, shi,” the kanji of the latter meaning “death,” though an unavoidable homonym for 4. It is, in a sense, Araki’s wry countdown to one end of human love.
Kyotographie International Photography Festival 2017 takes place at various venues in Kyoto until May 14; a passport ticket to all venues costs ¥3,000. For more information, visit www.kyotographie.jp.