Art

Kyoto's photographic slice of life

by J.J. O'Donoghue

Special To The Japan Times

Kyotographie is growing up. The international photography festival, which runs for a month at various stunning venues throughout Kyoto, is in its fourth year. So far there have been no signs of growing pains, even if the Kyotographie team members appear a little exhausted as they gather at their ramshackle office.

It’s the exhaustion born from a schedule of excitement, anxiety and satisfaction as the clock counts down to the opening of one of Asia’s break-out photography festivals.

Headed by Lucille Reyboz and Yusuke Nakanishie, hailing from France and Japan respectively, the Kyotographie team is compact and resolutely independent. The number of visitors it has attracted since its inception in 2013 has increased threefold, as has the effort in preparation and planning, and it has been a battle making the budget keep pace.

“The purpose of Kyotographie in the beginning was to create a stage to support Japanese photographers and we have really grown in that direction,” says co-founder and director Reyboz.

The theme for this year is “Circle of Life” and, as with the last three editions, the festival of shows brings together photographers both based in Japan and overseas, with a particularly strong showing from France. The exhibitions take place inside historic temples and beguiling machiya (town houses), as well as at galleries and museums across the city.

One unusual exhibition that is sure to be a crowd pleaser is “Plankton” at the Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art Annex. A sensory and immersive experience that utilizes multiple 4K TV screens to give visitors a feeling of standing inside a sea of plankton, the show is a collaboration between French marine scientist and photographer Christian Sardet, composer Ryuichi Sakamoto and the founder of the artist collective Dumb Type, Shiro Takatani, who designed the installation.

A retrospective of prominent photojournalist Kikujiro Fukushima — whose documentation of postwar Japan starts from the hellish conditions of Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the atomic bombings and leads right up to the Fukushima disaster in 2011 — can be found at the Horikawa Oike Gallery and Kyoto Museum for World Peace, Ritsumeikan University.

Focusing on a polar opposite point of the “circle of life,” French photographer Thierry Bouet’s “First Hour,” also at Horikawa Oike Gallery, offers a series of photos of newborns, captured in their first hours of screaming glory. Bouet highlights the miracle of life, but unaltered and unretouched, these large-scale photographs are a reprieve from the saccharine shots of babies that grace millions of cards and Facebook feeds.

Scheduled events such as a portfolio review for emerging photographers as well as the satellite exhibition “KG+” also provide a nexus for photographers in Japan to meet and exhibit works.

With its combination of thoughtful scenography, its range of photography and unparalleled exhibition settings, Kyotograhie is definitely one of the rewards of getting to Kyoto as the cherry trees turn green, and the circle of life continues.

Kyotographie takes place at various locations in Kyoto and runs from April 23 to May 22. A festival passport is ¥2,700 in advance and ¥3,200 from April 23. (¥2,000 set price for students). www.kyotographie.jp

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