Every spring, Kyoto hosts one of the most important photography festivals in Asia. Named Kyotographie, it will take over the ancient city for four weeks from April 13 to May 12, celebrating contemporary photography works of all kinds, whether it’s based on the documentary tradition or more conceptual schemes.
Over 13 exhibitions are spread across the city, presented in unique locations from heritage landmarks to contemporary settings, including the former printing plant of Kyoto Shimbum, a gallery space in the streets of Gion, and even the elegant Nijo Castle, once home to the Tokugawa shoguns of the Edo period.
Established in 2013, Kyotographie was founded by husband-and-wife duo Lucille Reyboz, a French photographer, and Yusuke Nakanishi, a Japanese lighting director. This festival aims to foster an appreciation of photography as a medium and art form, creating links between cultures as well as showcasing new talents.
‘Vibe’ is the theme this year, and it’s an ethereal, intuitive take on photography, exploring its emotional landscapes and connecting them to our moods. The festival has invited 13 artists from 10 different countries. Along with the exhibition programme, you can also look forward to workshops, events and artist talks.
KG+, an open-entry art festival dedicated to discovering and fostering new talents, will also be held alongside Kyotographie. It includes an exhibition of 12 photographers who are shortlisted for the KG+ Grand Prix award.
Here are our five top picks from the festival.
Scottish photographer Albert Watson has been named one of the 20 most influential photographers of all time. His Japan solo show includes not only portraits and landscapes, but also never-before exhibited new works and outtakes from the album cover shoot for Ryuichi Sakamotoʼs ‘Beauty’.
Japanese artist and sculptor Teppei Kaneuji mainly uses everyday items and materials in his works, but altered to create new meanings. In this show that takes place in the former printing plant of Kyoto Shimbun, Kaneuji (along with his sound and video team) will be creating an immersive multimedia installation that weaves together the art medium of photography with the newspaper’s role in disseminating information.
This intriguing exhibition titled ‘Synonyms’ juxtaposes French artist Pierre Sernet’s indirect images of intimate couples and shunga, a genre of erotic Japanese art. Numerous famous shunga works belonging to Uragami Sokyu-doʼs Mitsuru Uragami Collection will be featured alongside Sernet’s series of nude couples rendered in black-and-white silhouettes. Entry restricted to those aged 18 and above.
In this exhibition titled ‘Kusonoki’, renowned artist Ismaïl Bahri, who spends his time between Paris and Tunis, cast a new eye on the scenery outside of Nijo Castle’s Okiyodokoro, making full use of the available light to highlight special qualities of the unique, historic space. In fact, Bahri's known for his exploration of the relationship between natural elements, which in turn creates new moments in our everyday lives.
About Her, about Me, and about Them. Cuba through the Art and Life of Three Photographers: Alberto Korda, René Peña, Alejandro González
Brought together by Cuban curator Cristina Vives, ‘About Her, about Me, and about Them’ is an unfinished trilogy revolving around Cuba’s turbulent history and the existential struggles of its inhabitants. The show will feature works by Cuban artists Alberto Korda, René Peña and Alejandro González. It’s an exploration of the woven fabric that is art, life and society, as each photographer has either put their judgement on the country’s history or identify themselves in its narrative. By Julie Anne Sjaastad
For more information about Kyotographie’s full schedule and programme list, visit the official website here. Aside from a few which are free, each exhibition has its own entrance fee. However, you can get a passport ticket for ¥4,000 (valid throughout the festival), or a one-day pass for ¥3,000.