Four highlights at Kyotographie 2017

Our top picks for the fifth edition of the Kyoto-based international photography festival

By Hiroyuki Sumi |

Looking for an artsy break from Tokyo? This spring, consider heading over to Kyoto, which is again hosting the annual Kyotographie photography festival. This month-long bonanza dedicated to all things film is back for its fifth edition and runs until May 14. Having grown with each year, Kyotographie will see events, workshops and talks take place across 16 different locations in 2017. We went ahead and distilled our favourite picks to help you plan a snap-focused outing to the ancient capital.

Our top four picks

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Seeing some of the world's best photographic works in one place

Kyotographie 2017 sees over 40 photographers from around the world exhibit their works. Prints from the hand of 'Master of portraits' Andrew Newman, New York's Robert Mapplethorpe and domestic favourite Nobuyoshi Araki are all on display, alongside pieces by other world-renowed snappers. Italian photography mag Toiletpaper is putting on an installation, while the photo collection from Paris' Guimet Museum (dedicated to Asian art) has been flown in as well. There's definitely enough variety to keep everyone happy.

This year's theme is 'Love'. Co-founder and co-director Yusuke Nakanishi decided on the theme after looking back at world events in 2016, and the intent is for the viewer to contemplate the many meanings behind the works. Racial discrimination, family, love, religion: the big issues are dealt with here in a variety of ways and with a variety of responses.

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Contemplating the age-old and hypermodern architecture of the exhibition halls

One of the main joys of Kyotographie lies in its exhibition spaces. Emphasising the difference from other art festivals, Nakanishi explains that he's 'experimenting with the use of both traditional and modern architecture throughout the venues. Even by just walking through the buildings, you might find something new and interesting.' The traditional features heavily here, with multiple venues invoking the image of the Kyoto of old: traditional storehouses, castles and temples form a unique backdrop to the exhibitions.

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A varied lineup of workshops and related events

The fun of Kyotographie isn't just in the myriad of exhibitions. The various workshops, performances and other related events taking place are definitely worth a gander too. Take the former Shinpukan mall, which sees daily events, or the massive camera that you can enter and ogle images shown inside. Also look out for the digital and analogue print workshops, plus a whole host of talks with the artists. 

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Discovering rising stars

After browsing the greatest hits, be sure to head over to the KG+ satellite exhibition, which focuses on a selection of up-and-coming photographers. There are more than enough opportunities for catching these rising stars, as a whopping 60 venues are displaying KG+ works. Look out for the yellow tags creeping around, and follow them down the rabbit hole...

Exhibitions to watch out for

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Arnold Newman

Arnold Newman certainly had a whole range of people in front of his lens: from Marilyn Monroe to John F Kennedy and Pablo Picasso, the 'master of portraiture' appears to have shot everyone who was someone. Here, his work has been compiled into a proper retrospective in a very special location: Nijo Castle, a World Heritage Site.

Curator William Irwin is behind the exhibition, and typifies Newman as 'the most important portrait photographer in 20th-century America,' as well as someone who 'never stuck to the same method; he always tried to break with the rules and actively sought new subjects.' Works from his 60-plus-year career are displayed alongside commentaries on his shooting and trimming techniques, so you can really dig deep into Newman's method.

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Toiletpaper Magazine: 'Love is More'

Italian art photography magazine Toiletpaper has been making waves with its hard-hitting visuals. At Kyotographie, Maurizio Cattelan and Pierpaolo Ferrari, the producers behind the magazine, have created an installation in Higashiyama Ward. It looks like a visualisation of their chaotic brains, with a vivid crimson 'underwater'-themed room, and a 'food'-themed room which is just as colourful.

'Toilet paper is something you use after you've digested what you've eaten,' explains Ferrari. 'In the same way, we "eat" and "digest" various things and information through the internet and magazines. If you feel like you're digesting something in this space, that means you're a part of Toiletpaper. We hope that it'll bring a new perspective.' Once you're done digesting, head to the ground floor, where all the necessary merch is on sale.

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Akihito Yoshida: Fallen Leaves

Focusing on the period between 2011 and 2014, Miyazaki-born Akihito Yoshida's 'Fallen Leaves' sees nature and heart blend with photographs of landscapes where his grandmother and cousin lived and worked together. At first glance, the images of the two going out to eat or shop may seem gentle, almost unrelated, but knowing the backstory greatly enhances their impact.

The exhibition hall – the former Shinpukan shopping mall – is worth visiting regardless, and there's also an additional exhibition by Susan Barnett, an American photographer who travelled the world for eight years and only took photos of people's backs. With her subjects' T-shirts emblazoned with slogans such as 'Love is everything' and 'It's all love', she fits perfectly into this year's theme.

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