Nikkei Asian Review
KYOTO — There's nothing else like it in Japan: A truly international photography festival and commercial satellite event set in historical and modern venues throughout Kyoto. "Kyotographie reflects our love for photography and Japan," co-founder and co-director Lucille Reyboz said. The award-winning Kyoto-based French photographer launched the festival last year with Yusuke Nakanishi, a Japanese lighting artist as well as film and stage director. "We wanted to create a needed, high-quality platform for photographers here and bring their work closer to people's daily lives."
Kyotographie 2013 attracted over 57,000 visitors, a remarkable number for a first-time event of this kind. The 2014 version, through May 11, could prove equally successful even with its smaller, more intimate spaces. It was no easy task to secure unique venues like a historic tea school, machiya townhouses, a shrine sanctuary designated as a Unesco world cultural heritage site and the kura, warehouse, of a revered kimono sash maker. Kyoto-based Swiss designer Oliver Franz has brought the works alive amid countless space and lighting challenges.
Sponsorship has been key to the festival's success. Chanel, Hearst Fujingaho, Sony PCL, Baccarat, agnes b., Nissha Printing and Hasselblad Japan are among the many companies backing this art and culture venture. "We are so grateful to Chanel KK President Richard Collasse, who believed in this project from the start, despite the risks involved," Reyboz said. With Chanel on board, many offers quickly followed. "Kyotographie is a nonprofit festival, not a commercial art fair, so we wanted to involve only quality companies interested in photography," Nakanishi said. "They seem quite happy with the results."
Kyotographie's concept fits hand-in-glove with sponsor agnes b., the French fashion brand. "We're looking for what's new, something visionary with commitment," said Sebastien Ruiz, director of Galerie du Jour, opened by agnes b. founder Agnes Trouble in 1984. "In France, the photography market is old and established. Kyotographie is exciting because it's new and offers a unique mood, mixing photography works with modern and old venues." Kozo Fujimoto, agnes b. president in Japan, said the decision to participate was "Royal White Tiger" (photo courtesy of Tim Flach) made quickly. "With this kind of quality event, we know business will follow."
Ruiz curated the Galerie du Jour exhibition "Discoveries by agnes b." at two separate venues in the heart of Kyoto's old Gion district. A show of African hairdos by the late veteran African photographer J.D. Okhai Ojeikere and a group show featuring works by up-and-coming photographers.
Other highlights among the festival's 15 exhibitions include black and white works by legendary fashion photographer Lillian Bassman, presented by Chanel Nexus Hall for the first time in Japan. A pioneering, creative force at Harper's Bazaar magazine during the 1940s and 1950s, Bassman is known for her experimental, high-contrast and smudging techniques rooted in her artistic training. Like many photographers, she remained active until her death in 2012 at the age of 94.
Veteran photojournalist Stanley Greene offers a heart-stopper of a show with "The thin line between the eye and the heart." We catch glimpses of his remarkable life and work from his early days shooting rock bands. We also see images of his 30 years covering the world's conflict zones. His recent work in Greenland documenting the ravages of global warming is equally impactful. "These are not something you hang on your wall. They're made for people to think," Greene said. "It's my job to bring back the (local) people's story, their message that this should not be happening." His message: "Always give them humanity."
Humans are also the concern of renowned animal portrait photographer Tim Flach in his show "More Than Human," presented by Hasselblad, the Swedish photography company. Flach's widely collected work is more than stunning images of animals. His focus includes the human personification of animals (think Disney and Hello Kitty), ethical debate on their genetic "reshaping" for human consumption (a featherless chicken) and political symbolism (cute pandas). "We know animals better than ever before but have never been more separated from them," he said. "Photography extends our experience with animals."
Other must-see shows include Akiko Takizawa's "Where We Belong," curated by Simon Baker from the U.K.'s Tate Modern art museum. Her hauntingly beautiful prints were made using the collotype process, invented in France about 150 years ago. Museums and collectors are eyeing collotype, photogravure and other fine art photography prints with growing interest for their intrinsic scarcity and archival permanence.
Taishi Hirokawa's "Still Crazy" show reveals his genius for combining the beauty of fine art printing and landscapes with a stark, photojournalistic message on Japan's nuclear power plant dilemma.
In tandem with Kyotographie is KG+ (KG-plus), a commercial event featuring more than 100 photographers at 50 spaces throughout the city. Co-managers Philippe Bergonzo and Sae Shimai say photographers are always telling them they can sell anywhere in the world except Japan. The pair's goal is to change that by attracting more international collectors. The event's pickings range from mediocre to exceptional and undervalued works by established artists.
The best include vintage works by the late Noriaki Yokosuka, presented by Emon Photo Gallery with curators Caroline Trausch and the artist's son Anri. The 18 mise-en-scene black and white images were shot in the 1960s and 1970s. Yokosuka was among Japan's postwar pioneering photographers and is now garnering wide interest among collectors. "He's an undiscovered treasure," Trausch said.
Portrait and fashion photographer Vanessa Franklin wraps us in "Bleu" at Imura Gallery with her exploratory take on the cultural symbolism and ready-to-wear beauty of Japan's ubiquitous nylon blue sheets. Women play an intrinsic role in these riveting works.
Exploration is also tested in Alexandre Maubert's exhibition "Le temps d'apres" at Mori Yu Gallery. His vintage-style prints are produced in part via airport X-ray scanning. "At first I panicked when airport officials kept insisting my film be X-rayed numerous times," Maubert said. "I eventually gave up and decided to let the effects take over." The results are undeniably unique.
A schedule and list of venues can be found at http://www.kyotographie.jp.