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Kyotographie: An International Photo Festival in Japan’s Ancient Capital
An Interview with Lucille Reyboz

French photographer Lucille Reyboz launched the Kyotographie International Photography Festival in 2013 with Nakanishi Yūsuke as a way of drawing attention to the world of photography. Now in its second year, the festival is helping to raise the profile of photography in Japan and encourage dialogue among photographers around the world.

Lucille Reyboz

Lucille ReybozBorn in Lyon, France, in 1973. Spent childhood years in Bamako, Mali. Renowned especially for portrait photographs and produces work in a range of fields, such as magazines and CD jackets. Lived in Tokyo from 2007 to 2011, when she moved to Kyoto, where she still lives today. Organized the first Kyotographie International Photography Festival in 2013, together with Nakanishi Yūsuke. Solo exhibitions of her work include Source (New York: Phillips de Pury, 2007) and Belles de Bamako (Tokyo: Chanel Nexus Hall, 2011).

An Unforgettable Trip

INTERVIEWER The second Kyotographie International Photography Film Festival that you organized was held in Kyoto from April 19 to May 11, 2014. How far back does your connection with Japan go?

Books featuring photographs by Lucille Reyboz (clockwise from top right): Batammaba bâtisseurs d’univers (2004), featuring close-up coverage of the Tamberma people in Togo; Impressions du Japan (2013), photos of Japan with text by Hirano Keiichirō; Belles de Bamako (2011), scenes of women at weddings and of everyday life in Bamako, Mali; Source (2007), a collection of photos of Japanese women in hot springs baths.

LUCILLE REYBOZ I visited Japan in 1999 with my friend Salif Keita, a Malian singer who was performing in Sakamoto Ryūichi’s opera Life. That trip to Japan left a deep impression on me. I was surprised to find that traditional culture and primitive faith remained strong amid the hi-tech trappings of everyday life. On returning to Paris, I put together a proposal to take photographs comparing African animism with Japanese Shintō, and with a grant from the Hachette Foundation, I started traveling between Japan and France.

In 2007, I moved to Tokyo and produced the photo collection Source, made up of photos of Japanese women in onsen, hot springs baths. These works were also exhibited at the HSBC gallery during the Paris Photo fair in 2008. And last year Impressions du Japon was published—a book I worked on with the writer Hirano Keiichirō. It includes a number of my photographs of Japan, along with explanatory text by Hirano.

Photography Underexposed in Japan

INTERVIEWER Why did you think of holding an international photography festival in Kyoto?

REYBOZ After the earthquake and tsunami that struck on March 11, 2011, I moved from Tokyo to Kyoto. That day changed many people’s lives and it was also a big turning point for me. My partner Nakanishi Yūsuke, with whom I organized Kyotographie, moved from Tokyo to Kyoto at the same time. The two of us shared a strong desire to bring something unprecedented to as many people as possible.  

Kyoto’s fabulous streets spurred us on. If you live in Kyoto, you make new discoveries every day. For a photographer, it is extremely stimulating to encounter the traditional beauty of Japan every five minutes. Our feeling that we just had to start something got stronger and stronger. That is what led us to come up with the idea of hosting an international photography festival.

INTERVIEWER Japan holds very few international photo exhibitions. There is the Higashikawa International Photo Festival in Hokkaidō, but not many other examples.

REYBOZ Despite Japan’s reputation as a camera giant, photography has a low standing here compared with the situation in Europe. It’s unbelievable considering how many photographers have emerged thanks to Japanese cameras. And that high level of technology still supports artists today. After World War II, Japan produced big names like Hosoe Eikoh, Moriyama Daidō, Araki Nobuyoshi, and Ueda Shōji, as well as Kawauchi Rinko and numerous younger photographers, but their works are only on display in a few places.

This lack of exhibition venues naturally results in low public awareness. Several photographers are famous overseas, but almost unknown in Japan. Since only a limited number of people can be showcased on the international stage, you end up seeing the same faces. That was something I was aware of while living in Europe. It inspired me to create a space for people from different countries to discover Japan’s talented photographers.

The opening party held in the Museum of Kyoto on April 18.

This idea had a natural connection with Kyoto, as a city attracts tourists from around the world always. And we tried to exhibit works in the city’s traditional townhouses, temples, and shrines, not only in the typical white-cube galleries and museums, to make the visitors feel the beauty of Kyoto. The concept of Kyotographie was thus born—a festival to which we’d invite photographers, curators, and representatives of festivals and other institutions from around the world, as well as a place where these international participants and Japanese photographers could communicate with each other.

  • [2014.08.11]
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