Looking for meaning in Rafa Raigón’s Ikigai

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Originally from Andalucia, southern Spain, Rafa Raigón started out in the world of words – acting, and writing plays and poetry. Then he met his partner, a doctor from Berlin, and on moving to Germany, found himself without the necessary language skills to pick up again in theatre. The couple had a child and, staying at home to look after her, Raigón found himself taking photographs instead.

“I discovered the creative power of photography,” he says. “The need to express myself led me to photography, finding a tool and a language that allowed me to tell my stories without needing to know German or having friends and people with whom to relate. Now my German is quite advanced and my circle of friends has grown but photography is here to stay and it has become a need in my day-to-day life.”

Raigón now has three children, aged 3, 6, and 8, and he’s still the one in charge of looking after them and the house – and he’s also still taking photographs. Taking a one-year seminar at the respected Ostkreuzschule photography school, he realised that these images had something to do with his search for identity as a father, as a Spaniard living abroad, and as a person entering middle age. Searching online, he came across the Japanese concept of Ikigai, “a reason for being”, and realised that his images also related to his search for meaning – and more.

“Once the work was more advanced I also discovered that I was not only photographing my search but that of my children – their creativity, their games, their loneliness,” he says. “They are not aware of it, but I feel that there is, in some way, a search for meaning, a discovery of the world in what they do. I feel that they do have that Ikigai, that reason to get up every day from bed. Maybe at some point in adolescence that sense is lost and it is in adulthood that we have to go out and look for it again.”

From the series Ikigai © Rafa Raigón

Raigon’s images are bold and colourful, partly reflecting daily life with little kids, but also because he uses a flash, as he’s usually shooting indoors with poor lighting. His kids’ faces are also always hidden, partly to protect their privacy, but also to make them stand for any group of children – to make his project about children and childhood in general, rather than about his own family.

He “couldn’t say” how many photographs of his family he’s taken, but his project Ikigai contains about 60 images, shot between 2012-2018. It’s attracted some interest already in galleries, winning the Kunstpreis Fotografie Lotto Brandenbrug last year and included in Krakow Photomonth this summer. It was also picked out on the online Der Greif website in October, by the artist Anja Ligaya Weiss.

“Rafa Raigón’s series Ikigai appeals to me a lot – to my heart, to my sense of humor and of course to my eyes,” Weiss noted. “There’s so much easiness and wit and an awareness for the little things in these seemingly everyday life snap shots, which I think is a wonderful way of dealing with one of the greatest questions of humanity.”

There’s also a nice addendum to Raigón project in a series called jo soi papa [“I am papa”], which was shot by Raigón’s children. Unflattering shots of daily life, they show the fun but also the sheer graft involved in looking after little ones. “My older daughters started taking pictures at home, of their toys, of them, of me. And I decided to try to do something collective, to play. I pose for them or they photograph me when I’m cooking, resting or playing with them,” he explains.

“I decided to upload it to the web so they could have a space and make sense of the photographic shot. I also believe that it is a series with a fairly current content – the new masculinities, the new roles in the family, the need for care, love. And yes, it’s exhausting. To care is tiring, we just have to ask our mothers, or all those women who have been doing the same thing for centuries. It is time for men to start leaving behind our privileges.”


From the series Ikigai © Rafa Raigón
From the series Ikigai © Rafa Raigón
From the series Ikigai © Rafa Raigón
From the series Ikigai © Rafa Raigón
Diane Smyth

Diane Smyth is a freelance journalist who contributes to publications such as The Guardian, The Observer, The FT Weekend Magazine, Creative Review, The Calvert Journal, Aperture, FOAM, IMA, Aesthetica and Apollo Magazine. Prior to going freelance, she wrote and edited at BJP for 15 years. She has also curated exhibitions for institutions such as The Photographers Gallery and Lianzhou Foto Festival. You can follow her on instagram @dismy