From the series Ookini © Coco Capitán
Following her time as Kyotographie’s artist in residence, the Spanish photographer reflects on childhood, adulthood and differing customs
Seitarō is a 16th generation member of the Onishi family, one of the oldest artisan houses in Kyoto. Specialising in kama – iron kettles used in Japanese tea ceremonies – the family has mastered its craft for over 400 years. Bloodlines are of special importance in the world of Japanese craft, with knowledge passed down through lengthy apprenticeships. Seitarō is now 15 years old, and has begun his training to continue the family business.
This story makes up one part of Coco Capitán’s new series Ookini, which means thank you in the Kyoto dialect. At the end of 2022 the Spanish artist spent two months in the city as part of Kyotographie’s artist residency program where, ruminating on the festival’s theme ‘Borders’, she became interested in the passage between childhood and adulthood. Kyoto is one of Japan’s oldest cities, with tradition and history at the heart of its culture. “How does it feel to grow up as a teenager in Kyoto?” she asks. “How does it feel to become an adult in a place that is still very much attached to these old ways of seeing the world?”
“In Japan, when you are a child, you sort of live in a golden age. But when you become an adult, you are confronted with a completely different world”
Capitán sought out teenagers from different social groups, approaching students and skaters hanging out along the Kamo river, as well as Maiko (geishas in training), and young Buddhist monks. With help from Kyotographie, the photographer was also able to gain access to a school and, as she got to know the teenagers, noticed many differences between growing up in Spain and Japan. One struck her most: “In Japan, when you are a child, you sort of live in a golden age,” she says. “But when you become an adult, you are confronted with a completely different world.”
Compared to other cultures, in Japan social and familial pressures – to study, work, marry, and have a family – are high. But as anywhere, these pressures can be positive, negative, or both. Capitán’s images do not comment on or criticise these customs. Rather, the photographer saw her role as an observer: “I wanted to see how different it was to my own experience of growing into an adult,” she says.
Based in London, the artist is known for her mixed media approach, incorporating handwritten text with photography, painting and installation. Ookini is perhaps her most photography-focused series yet, and she used three types of cameras to make it – 35mm, medium format, and large format. “I’m very much into analogue processes, I print pretty much everything myself,” says Capitán. “The dark room is a very important place for me. It’s where I spend many hours going through my negatives and doing my selections.” She also invited her subjects to join her in the image-making, as seen in an image of two girls’ legs peeking out from under the cloak of a large format camera.
Capitán’s show at Kyotographie is vast, occupying three venues across the city. Images of Seitarō are exhibited in his family gallery, Onishi Seiwemon Museum; photographs of young monks in training are shown at Kyomo-in Zen Temple; and the rest are spread across two floors at ASPHODEL gallery. Prints are pinned up over the walls, with glass cabinets displaying different iterations of images and giving the sense of an insight into Capitán’s working process. And that’s important, because for the artist this series is still in progress. “This body of work is so wide; there are so many images,” she says. “For me, making a book will be the ultimate goal, because that’s how I can really build my story.”