The origin of all things: Kyotographie 2024 – a photo essay

<span>The Yanomami Struggle.</span><span>Photograph: Claudia Andujar</span>
The Yanomami Struggle.Photograph: Claudia Andujar

Spring in Kyoto ushers in cherry blossom season, but it also marks the return of one of the biggest photo festivals in Asia. Kyotographie, now in its 12th year, fuses the past and present with its striking images and unique locations. The 13 exhibitions are staged in temples, galleries and traditional private homes across the Japanese city, showcasing the work of national and international photographers.

The festival is loosely centred on a theme – and this year the directors, Lucille Reyboz and Yusuke Nakanishi, asked participants to focus on the word “source” by delving into the essence of beginnings and the nexus of creation and discovery.

  • The Yamomami struggle. Photograph by Claudia Andujar

The source is the initiator, the origin of all things. It is the creation of life, a place where conflict arises or freedom is obtained; it is the space in which something is found, born or created. It is a struggle Claudia Andujar and the Yanomami shaman and leader Davi Kopenawa know too well. The Yanomami Struggle is the first retrospective exhibition in Japan by the Brazilian artist and activist Andujar with the Yanomami people of Brazil.

It is more than 50 years since she began photographing the Yanomami, the people of the Amazon rainforest near Brazil’s border with Venezuela, an initial encounter that changed their lives. Andujar’s work is not just a showcase of her photographic talent but, with Kopenawa accompanying the exhibition to Japan for the first time, it is a platform to bring the Yanomami’s message to a wider Asian audience.

  • The Yanomami Struggle. Photograph by Claudia Andujar

The first part of the exhibition features photographs taken by Andjuar in the 1970s, alongside artwork by the Yanomami people and words by Kopenawa. The second part narrates the continuing violence inflicted by non-Indigenous society on the Yanomami. The project is a platform for the Yamomani people to be seen and protected from ongoing threats. The exhibition, curated by Thyago Nogueira from São Paulo’s Instituto Moreira Salles, is a smaller version of one that has been touring the world since 2018.

Those who do not know the Yanomami will know them through these images

Davi Kopenawa

  • The Yanomami Struggle, by Claudia Andujar, and artwork by the Yanomami people.

The Moroccan artist Yassine Alaoui Ismaili (Yoriyas) is showing new work made during his Kyotographie artist-in-residence programme for young Africans. The images from the Japanese city feature alongside his project Casablanca Not the Movie.

  • Children Transform the Sheep for Eid al-Adha into a Playground in Casablanca. Photograph by Yassine Alaoui Ismaili (Yoriyas)

Yoriyas gave up his career as a breakdancer and took up photography as a means of self-expression. His project Casablanca Not the Movie documents the streets of the city where he lives with candid shots and complex compositions. His work, which combines performance and photography, encourages us to focus on how we inhabit urban spaces. The exhibition’s clever use of display and Yoriyas’s experience with choreography force the viewer to see the work at unconventional angles. He says: “The camera frame is like a theatre stage. The people in the frame are my dancers. By moving the camera, I am choreographing my subjects without even knowing it. When an interesting movement catches my eye, I press the shutter. My training has taught me to immediately understand space, movement, connection and story. I photograph in the same way that I choreograph.”

  • The contrasts in Casablanca take many forms, including social, political, religious and chromatic. Photograph by Yoriyas

From Our Windows is a collaboration bringing together two important Japanese female photographers, both of whom shares aspects of their lives through photography, in a dialogue about different generations. The exhibition is supported by Women in Motion, which throws a spotlight on the talent of women in the arts in an attempt to reach gender equality in the field. Rinko Kawauchi, an internationally acclaimed photographer, chose to exhibit with Tokuko Ushioda who, at 83, continues to create vibrant new works. Kawauchi says of Ushioda: “I respect the fact that she has been active as a photographer since a time when it was difficult for women to advance in society, and that she is sincerely committed to engaging with the life that unfolds in front of her.” This exhibition features photographs taken by each of them of their families.

  • Photograph by Rinko Kawauchi.

Kawauchi’s two bodies of work, Cui Cui and As It Is, focus on family life. The first series is a family album relating to the death of her grandfather and the second showcases the three years after the birth of her child. Family, birth, death and daily life are threads through both bodies of work that help to create an emotional experience that transcends the generations.

  • Rinko Kawauchi and Tokuko Ushioda at the Kyoto City Kyocera Museum of Art

Kawauchi says: “My works will be exhibited alongside Ushioda. Each of the works from the two series are in a space that is the same size, located side by side. The works show the accumulation of time that we have spent. They are a record of the days we spent with our families, and they are also the result of facing ourselves. We hope to share with visitors what we have seen through the act of photography, which we have continued to do even though our generations are different, and to enjoy the fact that we are now living in the same era.”

Ushioda’s first solo exhibition features two series: the intimate My Husband and also Ice Box, a fixed-point observation of her own and friends’ refrigerators. Ushioda says: “I worked on that series [Ice Box] for around 20 years or so. Like collecting insects, I took photographs of refrigerators in houses here and there and in my own home, which eventually culminated in this body of work.”

  • Entries from Tokuko Ushida’s series Ice Box.

James Mollison’s ongoing project Where Children Sleep is on display at the Kyoto Art Centre with a clever display that turns each photograph into its own bedroom.

  • A child portrayed in Where Children Sleep, Nemis, Canada.

Featuring 35 children from 28 countries, the project encourages viewers to think about poverty, wealth, the climate emergency, gun violence, education, gender issues and refugee crises. Mollison says: “From the start, I didn’t want to think about needy children in the developing world, but rather something more inclusive, about children from all types of situations.” Featuring everything from a trailer in Kentucky during an opioid crisis and a football fan’s bedroom in Yokohama, Japan, to a tipi in Mongolia, the project offers an engrossing look at disparate lives.

  • From Where Children Sleep, Nirto, Somalia

  • Joshim, India. Photographs by James Mollison

Phosphor, Art & Fashion (1990-2023) is the first big retrospective exhibition devoted to the Dutch artist Viviane Sassen. It covers 30 years of works, including previously unseen photographs, and combines them with video installations, paintings and collages that showcase her taste for ambiguity and drama in a distinctive language of her own.

  • Eudocimus Ruber, from the series Of Mud and Lotus, 2017. Photograph by Viviane Sassen and Stevenson

The exhibition opens with self-portraits taken during Sassen’s time as a model. “I wanted to regain power over my own body. With a man behind the camera, a sort of tension always develops, which is often about eroticism, but usually about power,” she says. Sassen lived in Kenya as a child, and the series produced there and in South Africa are dreamlike, bold and enigmatic. She describes this period as her “years of magical thinking”. The staging of the exhibition in an old newspaper printing press contrasts with the light, shadows and bold, clashing colours of her work. The lack of natural light intensifies the flamboyant tones of the elaborately composed fashion work.

‘My life is unimaginable without Africa. The light and the dark. The colours, the people.’

Viviane Sassen

  • Dior Magazine (2021), and Milk, from the series Lexicon, 2006. Photographs by Viviane Sassen and Stevenson

  • Viviane Sassen’s immersive video installation at the Kyoto Shimbun B1F print plant. Photograph by Joanna Ruck

The source of and inspiration for Kyotographie can be traced to Lucien Clergue, the founder of Les Rencontres d’Arles, the first international photography festival, which took place in 1969. Arles, where Clergue grew up and lived all his life, was a canvas for his photography work in the 1950s. Shortly after the second world war, many Roma were freed from internment camps and came to Arles, where Clergue forged a close relationship with the community. Gypsy Tempo reveals the daily life of these families – their nomadic lifestyle, the role of religion and how music and dance are used to tell stories.

  • Draga in Polka-Dot Dress, Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, 1957. Photographs by Lucien Clergue

  • Little Gypsy Girl in the Chapel, Cannet 1958

During this time, Clergue discovered, and then helped propel to fame, the Gypsy guitarist Manitas de Plata and his friend José Reyes. Manitas went on to become a famous musician in the 1960s who, together with Clergue, toured the world, including Japan.

Kyotographie 2024 was launched alongside its sister festival, Kyotophonie, an international music event, with performances by Los Graciosos, a band from Catalonia who play contemporary Gypsy music. Meanwhile, the sounds of De Plata can be heard by viewers of Clergue’s exhibition.

  • The Magic Circle, Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, 1958, by Lucien Clergue.

Kyotographie 2024 runs until 12 May at venues across Kyoto, Japan.