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A decade since its first edition, the city-wide festival returns with an eclectic programme, including tributes to two masters of photography, and a landmark exhibition celebrating a new guard of women photographers in Japan
The city of Kyoto has long been an attraction for tourists. Before the pandemic, millions of travellers poured into its ancient streets every month, exploring its UNESCO World Heritage-designated temples and gardens, and shops selling traditional crafts and tiny Japanese sweets. But, since Japan closed its borders in April 2020, the city has experienced a steep decline in visitors. According to the Kyoto municipal tourism office, as few as 450,000 foreign tourists visited the city in 2020. This is an 88 per cent drop compared to the 3.8 million visitors who!arrived in 2019, and many local businesses have suffered as a result.
“The past two years were extremely challenging,” says Lucille Reyboz, co-director of Kyotographie International Photography Festival. The annual citywide event was founded in 2013, by Reyboz and her husband Yusuke Nakanishi, a Japanese lighting artist. Inspired by France’s beloved photofestival Les Rencontres d’Arles, their aim was to create an international stage for the photography community in Japan. The festival grew year on year, but when Covid-19 restrictions prohibited the 2020 event from taking place, like many local organisations, its future looked under threat.
Yet even the pandemic – which forced the cancellation of most European festivals, some for two years running – didn’t derail it. After postponing from April, Kyotographie returned in September that year with 10 physical exhibitions and socially distanced events. Last year, the festival attracted over 145,000 local visitors – equal to the number of visitors at Les Rencontres d’Arles, pre-pandemic.
This year, Kyotographie prepares for its 10th anniversary edition, which will take place for a month from 09 April. “Every year our theme reflects the situations we face globally and locally,” says Reyboz. Past themes have included Love (2017), Vision (2019) and Echo (2021), which reflected on the enduring consequences of!the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami on the disaster’s 10th anniversary. This year’s theme, One, aims to send a message of unity and solidarity, based on a Japanese Buddhist teaching translating to: “One is everything and everything is one.”
“After two hard years of the pandemic, which not only created but made visible the cracks in society, we felt it was crucial to finally reconnect, uniting as ‘One’,” Reyboz explains. “We see it as an expression of a new start, which is essential in a festival like ours, but also for all of us after two difficult years.” The festival’s 10th anniversary will also be commemorated by a special publication, due this summer.
Kyotographie exhibitions are renowned for their bold yet elegant effect, emulating the essence of the city they occupy. This year’s programming continues in the festival’s tradition of presenting work in unconventional venues – from traditional wooden houses, Buddhist temples and shopping arcades, to some of Kyoto’s most prestigious galleries.
Its main programme includes exhibitions of photography legends: Guy Bourdin (1928–1991) and Irving Penn (1917–2009), both shown in traditional gallery settings in Kyoto. The latter presents a collection of work on loan from the Maison Européenne de la Photographie, curated by the institution’s director, Simon Baker, at the Kyoto City Museum of Art.
Across the Kamo River, which $ows through the length of the city, a temple and tea garden will house the work of a Japanese master of photography, Ikko Narahara (1931–2020). Narahara was a founding member of the Vivo collective, which he formed in 1957 alongside Shomei Tomatsu and Eikoh Hosoe, among others. Working between Tokyo, Paris and New York, he is highly acclaimed in both Japan and abroad, with his work held in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
“We could see that the Japanese female photography scene was blooming. The 10th edition was a perfect time to highlight this immense talent in Japan”
Lucille Reyboz, co-director of Kyotographie
Women photographers in Japan have not always received the recognition they deserve. This year, in Kyoto’s weaving district, textile manufacturer and art gallery HOSOO will exhibit a group show celebrating a new vanguard of 10 Japanese women photographers: Momo Okabe [page 126], Mayumi Hosokura, Ai Iwane, Yukari Chikura, Noriko Hayashi, Ariko Inaoka, Harumi Shimizu, Mayumi Suzuki, Hideka Tonomura, and Tamaki Yoshida.
“We could see that the Japanese female photography scene was blooming. The 10th edition was a perfect time to highlight this immense talent in Japan,” says Reyboz, who co-curated the show alongside Nakanishi and curator, historian and Japanese photography specialist, Pauline Vermare. Their hope is that the exhibition will travel overseas, showcasing the talent globally. “Each of the artists has a unique language and aesthetic,” says Reyboz. “[They] use photography to reveal intimate moments, feelings, struggles and joys. They show us the cracks and taboos of society.”
Elsewhere, the festival celebrates cross-cultural collaboration. Isabel Mu oz will exhibit a series of “weaved photographs” made with the textile specialist Gembey Yamaguchi and Japanese dancer Min Tanaka. Italian-Senegalese artist Maïmouna Guerresi will exhibit work reflecting on spirituality and humanity, while photographer Paolo Woods and journalist Arnaud Robert present their investigation into big pharma and its role in the global addiction to prescription drugs.
As always, community is at the heart of Kyotographie’s mission. Its permanent bookshop and cafe, in one of Kyoto’s historic shopping arcades, will host artist talks. And 23-year-old Prince Gyasi’s bold iPhone photographs will hang along the length of the arcade, engaging the local community with narratives of marginalised individuals in his hometown of Accra, Ghana.
A decade since its first edition, Kyotographie continues to flourish with a foolproof formula of eclectic programming, unconventional venues, and a focus on community. Its success is a testament to photography’s power to unite in times of struggle.
Kyotographie takes place at various venues around Kyoto, Japan, from 09 April to 05 May 2022.
Marigold Warner joined the British Journal Photography in April 2018, and currently holds the position of Online Editor. She studied English Literature and History of Art at the University of Leeds, followed by an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London. Her work has been published by titles including the Telegraph Magazine, Huck, Gal-dem, Disegno, and the Architects Journal.