Blending her own life with a Japanese legend, Koga examines love, death, betrayal and obsession
In Japanese mythology, there is a story in which a young woman, Kiyohime, falls in love with a Buddhsit monk, Anchin. Due to his ascetic vows, Anchin rejects Kiyohime, causing her to chase after him. Her obsessive love transforms her into a snake, and when she finds Anchin, hiding within a bell in the Dojojii temple, she enwraps it, spitting fire and burning him alive in a vengeful rage. When she realises what she has done, Kiyohime casts herself into the river, reuniting with her love in heaven.
This legend is the frame behind Bell, a new photobook by Japanese photographer Eriko Koga, published by Akaaka. Blending fact and fiction, Koga uses the tragedy of Kiyohime and Anchin as metaphor, to venture into explorations of mythology and family in the modern world. “Through an internal dialogue with the legend and an open but intimate observation of my family and our life together, I found myself yearning for a free, unbridled way of life, and in the process caught sight of new possibilities sprouting at our feet,” writes Koga, in the book’s afterword.
Through dreamlike landscapes, blurred flames and still waters, Koga meditates on the faces and environments that surround her, while touching on wider elements of the natural world. The work exists in a subliminal space between mythical and modern Japan, freezing and playing with both time and place. Gender, life, death, love, obsession and despair bridge the book, which becomes a personal exploration of a 21st century Kiyohime.
Isaac Huxtable joined the British Journal of Photography in October 2020, where he is currently the Editorial Assistant. Prior to this, he studied a BA in History of Art at the Courtauld Instititue of Art, London.