Rinko Kawauchi

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Rinko Kawauchi contemplates the small mysteries of life

Photographer Rinko Kawauchi discusses her interest in the small mysteries of everyday life, which she explores in her series Utatane (2001). She explains why she was drawn to the sublime beauty of the controlled burning of grasslands in Japan for her series Ametsuchi (2012–13), and reflects on how her photography comes from a state between dreams and waking.


Rinko Kawauchi contemplates the small mysteries of life

Rinko Kawauchi
March 2016

Rinko Kawauchi: When I’m taking photos, I’m slightly different from how I usually am. It is like my power is switched on. It is kind of like being an athlete. I feel that I’m in an unusual place when I’m holding my camera and taking photos. For me, it is important to have nothing at all in my mind when taking photos. When I am able to concentrate on having an empty mind, a totally unexpected gift is given that allows me to capture an extraordinary moment.

I remember being saved a lot by small things and events when I was little. So when I create my work, I attach great significance to listening to small voices and valuing small things. That’s probably based on my childhood experience. I chose the series title Utatane as a way to express the state of being between sleep and wakefulness. The project explores different kinds of liminal states. Describing what dreams do for us is difficult. I think dreams come from our subconscious minds or states of unconsciousness. I am very much interested in that field, and I get inspired by dreams I have sometimes.

When I was making Utatane, in my early days, the world I was living in was much smaller than it is now. The book I was making back then was the most appropriate size for me. In my recent project called Ametsuchi, I intended to show the photos at a very large size. What inspired me was a dream I had one day. It was of scenery so amazingly beautiful that it made me almost scared. I woke up thinking how beautiful it was. I wasn’t sure if that location really existed, but if it did, I wanted to visit it. About six months later, I saw what I saw in my dream on TV. The location did exist. I found out that what I saw was called noyaki. It is the practice of protecting a grassland by burning a field. It has been done for about thirteen hundred years. Without noyaki, a field would turn into woods. Beautiful grassland cannot be maintained without burning the field once a year. What amazes me is that it doesn’t happen naturally but is maintained by human intervention.

I am very much interested in the flow and cycle of human practices. It is not only the theme for Ametsuchi but also a foundation of all my work. I find something very beautiful in people’s daily lives and the way society is maintained. No one can explain what the world is made up of. Scientists, physicists, philosophers, et cetera have tried to figure out the world’s mysteries, and they have their theories. But still there is more unknown than known.

I’m not trying to prove any theories through photography; I simply want to think about them. I wanted to think about mysteries in this world. Through photography, I’m always focusing on and thinking about these things.

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Works in the Collection by Rinko Kawauchi