Rinko Kawauchi

OjodePez no. 16, Madrid, 2009

cuicui_02 © Rinko Kawauchi

       Releasing the Shutter and Drinking Tea

It is tempting in these narcissistic times to assume that ‘the personal’ is a realm of experience entirely distinct from social or collective life. But the boundaries are never really that fixed.  Perhaps we cling to the idea of the personal being completely unique and separate because we feel that it is somehow under threat. We sense it might be endangered by everything from the encroachment of stupid television to the commodification of the personal that infects internet websites such as Facebook. (What strikes me most when I look at these sites is just how similar everyone’s individuality is, as if it was one big, shared ‘personal life’).


cuicui2_art_004© Rinko Kawauchi

Rinko Kawauchi has become well known in the last few years for making what many have described as intensely personal photographs of her everyday experiences. Of course many photographers work this way but not all are as artistically successful. So it is worth considering what has made Kawauchi’s work so popular.

Utatane-44© Rinko Kawauchi

What happens when a viewer responds to a body of work on the basis that it is personal? Are they responding to it personally, for themselves? Or are they imagining they are seeing (that is, projecting) the personality of whoever made the photographs? I imagine the response to Kawauchi’s imagery involves a little of both. We see something personally for ourselves and we imagine the personality of the artist or observer. Her photography seems fascinated with the pictorial potential of the most mundane of things. An insect, a hand, light reflecting or refracting, a face, a plant, a moment in the life of her grandmother. In these photographs the mundane is given back to us strange and new. In other words, it is redeemed. And everyone wants to find some redemption in the mundane. So much of modern life is filled with the mundane and most of the time we cannot escape it. It sometimes seems as if we can only escape into it, through its transformation into something else. An image perhaps. This is not a new idea. It has been a fundamental part of art’s response to modern life at least since the beginnings of photography. But it is a task that will always be there and will always be renewed.

ee51-jpg© Rinko Kawauchi

When I first saw Kawauchi’s images of her grandmother, I sensed they were genuine, that the relation between the photographer and the subject was complex and tender. I sensed this, but I cannot know it. All we have are the photographs.  All we do with photographs is sense things, and when we sense things what we are doing is a mix of recognition and wishing. The photographs lead me to believe something that I actually want to believe in. I think this is a key to the extraordinary response there has been to Kawauchi’s photography. It has an ability to tap into what many think they want from everyday life, what they hope it could be. Strange and new, yet familiar too. So in the end these pictures are going to be as much about me and my grandmother or you and your grandmother, as much as they are about Rinko and hers. If this photography is personal it is because we want it to be personal. And if it is popular it is because what think of as personal is actually much more collective than we might realise.


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