10 questions to Rinko Kawauchi about photography

Rinko Kawauchi, one of Japan’s most popular female photographers today, created a sensation across the contemporary photography world in 2001 when she simultaneously released three critically acclaimed photography books: Utatane, Hanabi and Hanako and won the 27th Kimura Ihei Photography Award. Rinko’s publications have continued to amaze the photography world with three more books: Aila, the eyes the ears and Cuicui. She won not only the hearts of the young generation in Japan, but Rinko Kawauchi is said do be the next upcoming photographer – even in London. Being a great fan of Rinko’s work, I jumped on the opportunity to talk to her during her exhibition at the Photographers’ Gallery in London

Written by Mayalina

Gallery shots of the Rinko Kawauchi exhibition at the Photographers’ Gallery in London. There were many many visitors.
Her photos were displayed in plexi frames, which made the photos jump out at you at first, then draw you deep into the pictures.

1. Miss Kawauchi, your photos bring me into a world of quiet contemplation, your camera captures the most intricate details of every day life, transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary and revealing a lyrical rhythm to our daily lives and surroundings. Before I go into your motifs and motivation,may I start by asking you what cameras you use?

My favourite camera is the Rolleiflex. The reason why I like the Rolleiflex so much is because every aspect of it, the soft quality of the lens, the feeling of it in my hand, the clicking of the shutter, feels just right. But I also use normal compact cameras as well because some things can only be taken with a compact camera. I love that moment when I feel something and press the shutter.

2. Do you insist upon a certain kind of form of printing? For example, you often print your photos in a square format, is there a reason why?

The reason why I print in a square format is because the Rolleiflex camera which I use is a 6 x 6 camera. I dislike trimming photos because I when I take pictures I am taking them through a 6 x 6 lens and therefore from a 6 x 6 point of view. But I also really like the square format as it is a world that is neither vertical nor horizontal. Not being pulled by either feels like a world to me.

The owl’s beady eyes are unforgettable…

3. What do you actually like about photography?

I was comfortable with it the moment I held my first camera. Also, there is a kind of positive chemistry between me and taking photos …I think I really like the idea of cutting out a moment in time…it is almost like fulfilling a hunting instinct for me. By fulfilling this need I get a feeling of satisfaction. For example, I think its similar to going shopping, the feeling of going to get something is a really comfortable task and coming home and printing the images is very similar to cooking for me. This string of tasks is very important to my daily life.

4. You do commercial photography as well as your personal artwork. Can you tell us a little about the relationship between your work in an artistic and commercial context and about how you negotiate and deal with both.

At first I had been doing lots of commercial work, but my manager Mr. Takei encouraged me to spend more time on my artistic work. But it’s difficult to choose one or the other because if someone where to ask me whether I worl better without commissioned work, that is not always the case. On the other hand, doing too much commercial work is no good either.

from the book Aila

But for example, the work I am displaying at the Photographers Gallery now is what I worked on whilst I worked on commissions and when I look back on myself, I am really glad that I was able to take so much work side by side with my commercial work. If I were given lots of time to concentrate just on my artistic works, I don’t know if I could do it. So for me it is best when I balance out the job of being a commercial photographer and an artistic photographer.

5 . I realized, that you take photos with your mobile phone, too for your online Rinko Diary you write! I find it extremely interesting to see a professional photographer taking photos on a mobile phone and presenting them to the public. Can you tell me a bit more about those photos and why you started the diary?

I thought taking photos with my mobile phone every day would be quite interesting, It’s a mobile phone camera and I am writing a diary, so I tried not to make it too artistic.

Images from the diary, who would image that these were taken
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by a mobile phone!!?

Why I started it is because I really wanted to do something daily. Even more, I wanted it to be presented to others because doing something privately doesn’t ever last long, and going round in circles brings you back to the same place. I also thought that presenting it on the interenet would make it feel live.

I also think it a really positive activity form me as it is in a sense therapeutic and helps me maintain my mental health.

6. And I heard that you are taking this diary further by publishing a book based on it! This also brings me to my next question: you have a prolific publishing career with 6 major beautiful titles and you tend to present a lot of your photography in book format. What exactly triggered your bookmaking career? Was it inspired by any special encounters?

My first photography book was published by Mr. Takei when he was still at Little More (He is now the president of Foil. Normally, publishing three books at once, especially photography books is completely unheard of, but he just did it and that was the begining.

The famous books which were published simultaneously in 2001 causing an overnight sensation in the photography world.
Images from Rinko’s latest book Cuicui, a beautiful family album which was taken over 13 years, recording the most intimate moments of family life.

Books have always been like a friend to me from a very early age and when I spoke of my future dream in high school I said that, although I didn’t know exactly what kind of book it would be, I would publish a book in my own name one day.

7. What exactly do you like about the book format?

Movies and television offer you a form of time which is in a sense imposed upon you and which you can’t really move away from or control. But with books, you can take them around and look at any part of them at your own pace. This is why, I cant stand reading the same book with someone else. For example, I used to love the Shonen Jump Magazine when I was in elementary school and I hated it when my brother would try to read the comics while I did. I would say, “Stop interefering with my relationship with Dragonball!” (ha ha ha) I didn’t want anyone to interfere with the intimate world created between me and whatever I was reading. Books are such a big part of my life, they have helped me through a lot, and that is why I am so happy to be able to have a job where I can make books

collection of my Rinko Kawauchi books with signature

8. Your books are collections of images often put together based on visual association and I find that these visual associations create space for engagement, curiosity, contemplation and imagination. How do you decide upon the composition of your books? How do you make your books flow so beautifully?

When I put together a book, I actually I have a conversation with myself. To be more specific, I begin by printing simply everything that I have recently taken and which interest me for what ever reason. And then I spread everything on my floor at home and start by taking an image in my hand. I then choose the next image, as if I were playing an image association game. I have moments where I say to myself, “I don’t know why but only this image can be next to this one”, or “this is a bit too well-coupled”. It’s almost like having some kind of discovery. In fact, photography is a succession of discoveries. When you take the photo you have a discovery. Then when you print you have another discovery. It is as if I am pressing the shutter a second time, because I notice things, I wasn’t aware before.

Images which were display side by side at the Photographer’s Gallery London.


9. How did you cultivate your photographic/artistic sensibility?

People often say that I have a child’s eye. For example, I stare at ants gathering around sugar, or when I seek shelter from the rain, I gaze upon snails. These are things which you often do when you are a child aren’t they? I have a very similar sensibility to that.

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. Even when I walk around Shibuya, I find myself running towards a little batch of flowers. I find comfort in them. I think this is a very normal sensitivity, on the contrary to what people may think, I think its sound. But of course the world we live in is not only made up of grass growing by the road, it is composed by lots and lots of other elemets and so I do also take pictures of many other things. Just taking flowers is not interesting. I experience the world with a feeling of equilibrium and I think it shows in my works.

tiny cocoon on grass

10. Finally, can you tell us about your next project? I heard you are working on an exhibition in Brazil?

I am holding an exhibition at a museum in San Paulo next year and I visited Brazil in February to take photos for the exhibition. The owner of a Contemporary Art Museum in Brazil suggested that I took pictures of Japanese immigrants in a study of the history of Japanese immigrantion. I am thinking of going back again in the summer and making a book out of the idea.

I really look forward to that!

books on display at the Photographer’s Gallery in London

Rinko signing each one with love and a little chat

I think many aspiring photographers will be surprised to hear that Rinko majored in Graphic Design at University. Her career as a photographer was inspired by the photography classes she deicided to take once a week. Her determination to pursue what she felt was right! To create an immense archive of work is both amazing and encouraging. Besides being a very young incredible photographer, she is a wonderful person to meet.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.

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  • Frank

    Sugoi yo! Kawauchi san ojoozu shashinka desu ne!!

    A person totally in touch with the world around her and with skill and heart to show it to the rest of us. Truly inspiring. I’m going to my local bookshop today to buy some of her books.

  • GK

    Never heard (seen) of square photos before.
    Looks great!
    Rinko’s works are really awesome. If I weren’t several thousand kilometers from London I’d definitely visit the exposition.

  • http://www.japan-photo.info Ferdinand

    the exhibition is already over, but she will have an exhibition in Milan soon – several thousands kilomters from you as well :-)


  • scr

    What a nice interview.

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  • http://www.hanamiweb.com/log ヤーッコ

    The books are so wonderful.. Especially the watermelon!

  • Amanda james

    I am so inspired by Rinko. I don’t know her, but I feel like I’ve had so many intimate conversations with her because of her photographs. I feel like she’s showing her soul through her photos. She’s amazing, I’ve started to see life in a different way through her pictures…thanks Rinko!

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  • http://vincent.donzeedipresse.ch vincent

    rinko, thank you to give me a tender regard about japan. vincent ;)

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  • http://www.mam.org.br julie from brasil

    looking forward to your exhibition here in brasil! the museum’s website where rinko’s work will be shown in july 2007 is http://www.mam.org.br and it’s the Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo (modern art museum). we’re all very excited to see this young and upcoming, although already established, artist! thank you!

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  • jan

    nice interview.I’ve seen the show in Photographer’s Gallery in London, I love the pictures but I found the way they were mounted slighly disturbing.The prints sealed in plexi glass felt a bit too much like commercial photography display, I
    though if the prints were simply pinned on the wall it will suit them better. There was also slide show in the second half of the gallery turned into a screening room, photographs from “Cui Cui” (i think) with some ambient music-it was great! It was similar to the flow on the images in the book, I came to the gallery several times just see it again..

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