Illumination: An Interview with Rinko Kawauchi
By Anna Carnick
Rinko Kawauchi’s photographs celebrate the tiny gestures and unexpected patterns of everyday life. Known for her dreamlike yet unflinching aesthetic, the Tokyo-based artist explores the extraordinary in the mundane, championing the translucent beauty of life’s fleeting moments.
This past month, Kawauchi debuted Illuminance, her twelfth book and her first to be published outside of Japan, as well as an exhibition by the same name at the Gallery at Hermès. Drawn from fifteen years of work, this collection of previously unpublished images continues Kawauchi’s exploration of the fundamental life cycles and the world’s often overlooked wonders.
Amid all the excitement, Ms. Kawauchi sat down to answer a few of our questions.
AC: What first drew you to photography, and what about the medium keeps you engaged?
RK: I just like to think about our life and world through photography. It is the best method for me.
What type of camera(s) do you use?
Rolleiflex and Canon 5D. I just feel a good match with them. Also, they’re not too heavy.
Your work is so ethereal, connected by threads of seemingly random yet repetitive patterns. When you step out into the world to shoot, what are you looking for?
I’m looking for something to touch our subconscious.
What motivates you thematically as an artist?
My works are always meant to reveal evidence of life—such as the cycles, for example. This is what I need to live, so I would say that is my theme.
You have an extensive list of book titles under your belt now. Is there something specific you love about the book format, as opposed to other mediums?
I’ve just really loved the book format more than [any] others since I was small.
Lyrical, visual associations often structure your books. In Illuminance, for example, a circular child’s toy lies opposite a wall of spiraling graffiti, and an elongated spider stands opposite a lacy canopy of trees. How would you describe your process of image selection and composition?
It is really hard to explain it. I just follow my instincts—for shooting as well. I just would like to see something in the middle.
When determining a book’s composition, how do you maintain an emotional or narrative flow without becoming overly stiff or structured?
One image can be independently successful, but I believe that another, new perspective can be borne by connecting images to images, making a sequence of images.
Illuminance: how would you describe the series in your own words?
My obsession itself.
How was the title chosen?
As a metaphor for our life, in which we have different point of views. There are many ways to see our world.
Your exhibition opened recently at the Gallery at Hermès as well. Can you speak to the differences for an artist between book and exhibition presentation?
Making a book is more personal. Having an exhibition is a collaboration with a place, a space (Hermès, in this case).
For you, what is the biggest difference between Illuminance and your earlier books or series?
Time. It has been ten years since I published my first books.
How do you see yourself evolving as an artist?
I just would like to progress as an artist, as a human being with my work.
Illuminance is available now through Aperture.
The Illuminance exhibition is at the Gallery at Hermès now through July 16th.
691 Madison Avenue, Fourth Floor, New York, NY, (212) 751-3181
Gallery open Monday–Saturday, 10:00 am–6:00 pm.
Rinko Kawauchi (born in Shiga, Japan, 1972) studied graphic design and photography at Seian Junior College of Art and Design. Among her awards and accolades are the 1997 Grand Prix Prize at the Guardian Garden’s 9th Hitotsubo Exhibition, the 27th Ihei Kimura Photography Award in 2002, and the 2009 International Center of Photography Infinity Award in Art. She has had solo exhibitions at Fondation Cartier, Paris; Photographers’ Gallery, London; Galleria Carla Sozzani, Milan; Hasselblad Center, Göteborg, Sweden; and Museum of Modern Art, São Paulo, among other international venues. Kawauchi lives and works in Tokyo.