A photograph by Andrey Kuzhabekov, second secretary at the Russian Embassy in Tokyo, features a group of children playing with soap bubbles at Yoyogi Park in the city. The image evokes a longing for simpler times in our past and the natural joys that have become increasingly rare in today’s complicated and digitized world.
The nostalgic scene, captured by Kuzhabekov during a stroll with one of his two sons, won the Prince Takamado Memorial Prize in the photography competition Japan Through Diplomats’ Eyes 2017.
The annual competition was launched in 1998 by former Luxembourg Ambassador to Japan Pierre Gramegna, an avid photographer who had encouraged diplomats to share their experience through photography in the belief that they could offer unique perspectives about Japan.
Princess Hisako, Prince Takamado’s widow and honorary president of the contest, presented Kuzhabekov with the award, praising his technique and the way his work reflects this year’s theme: Japan, a country of contrasts. The award is a tribute to the late Prince Takamado, a keen photographer who passed away in 2002.
“In our present-day digital society, children often stay indoors and play online games. In comparison, the smiling faces of these children enjoying some traditional bubble blowing look radiant, and fill us with a sense of comfort and warmth,” the princess said in a comment to organizers.
During the exhibition’s opening ceremony held Tuesday at the glitzy commercial complex Roppongi Hills in Tokyo, Kuzhabekov said: “This contest is a very good opportunity to learn about Japan, to learn more, to meet more people and visit more places.”
“This contest is building bridges between nations,” he said.
Kuzhabekov said he wants his children to develop love for Japan.
“If you love some country, you want to learn about it more and more. And the more you learn the more you love it,” he told The Japan Times.
He said he admires Japan’s mixture of Asian traditions and Western cultures as well as the way that its people have embraced technological advances while also preserving their cultural heritage.
Hungarian Minister Counselor Attila Erdos, who won this year’s Grand Prize, said his passion for photography motivated him to explore lesser-known parts of the country and helped him gain a deeper understanding of Japan.
The work that garnered Erdos the top prize is a photographic retrospective of his experience in the Japan composed as a collage of negative images taken with a film camera. He then used a digital camera to take the photograph of the composition.
Erdos, who has served in Japan as envoy for more than a decade, said the images featuring different scenes of Tokyo exhibit the richness of Japan’s cultural heritage. He plans to share his observations with fellow Hungarians upon his return to his home country.
Stephen Payton, ambassador of New Zealand, won the Ambassador Prize for capturing the atmosphere of serenity, with his black-and-white photo of a traditional wooden bath.
The bath house, which was reportedly built for foreigners, is situated on the grounds of Toshogu Shrine in the city of Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture. The shrine was dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616), the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate. Payton said he had the opportunity to enjoy a traditional soak in the bath.
The jury also presented the Special Mention Award to four works for their outstanding quality, praising the artists’ efforts to contrast Japan’s historic traditions with modernity.
Among the winners was Guatemalan Ambassador Angela Chavez Bietti, who submitted a photo of a boy with his hands outstretched trying to capture the sunlight streaming through a window in a dark room. Her work was recognized for its technique and composition.
Chavez Bietti told The Japan Times she hadn’t always been enthusiastic about photography until she realized it was a good opportunity to become familiar with Japan’s unique features. She took the photo at an open-air rural museum in Kanagawa Prefecture.
Moroccan Ambassador Mohammed Rachad Bouhlal was also awarded the special mention for his photograph of a black-headed gull flying above Odaiba in Tokyo. The seabirds were designated the official metropolitan bird in 1965.
Bouhlal said he has been fascinated with traditional aspects of the country since his arrival last year.
He said exploring Japan helped him discover similarities to his country such as pride in its heritage and history while leaning into the future. Bouhlal said Japan is full of surprises.
The Special Mention Awards were also presented to Macedonian Ambassador Andrijana Cvetkovik, last year’s Grand Prize winner, and Galina Meiluniene, wife of the former ambassador of Lithuania.
This year’s winning works were selected from 70 entries submitted by the diplomats and family members of 46 countries.
The photo exhibition will be displayed at Hills Cafe/Space in Roppongi Hills from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. until Monday. Afterward, the exhibit will travel to Nagoya, Kobe and Higashikawa in Hokkaido. Admission is free.
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