Kyoto, in all its centuries-old splendor, is not known for being a hub of dynamic change. Save for the occasionally news-making animosity between locals and tourists, its value lies in its ability to preserve. But every spring, a flood of contemporary art invades the city, bringing with it global and socially minded works and themes from the outside world.

Kyotographie, Japan’s premier international photography festival, opened April 13 under the theme “Source.” Now in its 12th edition, it’s a well-oiled operation with a host of partners, collaborators and corporate sponsors the likes of Dior and Chanel. The program is strong this year compared to last, which had one too many merely pretty exhibits, and it works hard to highlight various underrepresented groups from around the world — although it rarely gets into anything too challenging or uncomfortable.

At Kyotographie, the venues are as exciting as the art, and often the juxtaposition of the two creates something new all together. In “Welcome to Birdhead World Again, Kyoto 2024” by Shanghai duo Birdhead, photos of Tokyo and Kyoto shot in the past few years, ablaze with bright colors and urban lights, are arranged so that energy appears to move from one photo to the next. The work stands in dramatic contrast to the soft lighting and wafū (Japanese-style) surroundings in Kondaya Genbei, the headquarters of a 280-year-old obi manufacturer.