Tag Archives: Rinko Kawauchi

Rinko Kawauchi: Keeping the Fire Going

This work by Kawauchi was produced during lockdown and was one of the pieces of work discussed in our recent Zoom with Arpita Shar. It was the work I initially liked least – so I decided to give it a chance and look at it slowly (as suggested by Marta Grabowska) (Grabowska, 2020) and also examine it using the steps suggested in the book Ways of Looking by Ossian Ward (Ward, 2014).

Grabowska’s article is mainly about looking at art works in a museum – where there is a tendency (and I admit, one I am guilty of) to rush around looking at everything and seeing nothing.  She talks about the book Seeing Slowly, looking at Modern Art by Michael Findlay which is now on my reading list. Her main point is to give the piece of work time. Look at it before you read about it. Ask yourself questions about it. Try and connect with the work in an emotional, spiritual and sensory way as well as an intellectual way.

Ward suggests looking at any contemporary work using a tabula rasa, a blank slate approach and gives this guide:

  • T = time – stand still and take stock for 5 breaths
  • A = association – can I relate to it personally?
  • B = background – is there a backstory, a clue in the title or where the artist comes from?
  • U = understand – what is the artist trying to tell you?
  • L = look again- what have you missed?
  • A = assessment – what do you now think?

So, using a combination of these methods what do I really think?

© Rinko Kawauchi

The work, as shown in the article, consists of 9 images. On first glance they are not linked in any way but on looking harder and for longer they are all about light and life. Some are downright odd. What is that grey shape against the trees? Is it dust? Is it water? Is it the spray from a fountain or someone watering plants? As I look at it, it changes. A polar bear pouncing on prey. A ghost of my cat (long dead). Another – a beam of light coming through the trees, split into multiple colours. A ray of beauty against the darkness. On looking at it for some time I am tempted to print it off and hang it over my desk to give me something to stare at when I am stressed and tired. A picture of a young girl walking away from you, taken against the light, or rather though the light.  Mist, mystical, mysterious. Who is she? Where is she going?

Kawauchi is a Japanese photographer whose many books all talk about light. One is even called Illuminance (Kawauchi and Chandler, 2011). Like this short series it gives pictures that have no obvious explanation, bursts of light, ones that would be easy to discard as a ‘failed image’, a ‘mistake’. Others show odd details, the end of a lit cigarette. A fly. Others that expound life in its glory and mess – from a baby’s toes to the moon.

In her written explanation of Keeping the Fire Going she says ‘I clicked the shutter button when I felt inclined to; I didn’t have a particular theme in mind…..throughout history, calamities of various forms… have threatened us. But in spite of that history, here I stand, now. I have to keep this little fire in my chest going’ (Kawauchi, 2020).

So – I started by not liking/appreciating these images at all. By looking at them slowly, thinking about them, considering them in a sensory way, they have become the series that holds the most importance to me. The one I will look at again and again.


Grabowska, M. (2020) The Art of Slow Looking by Marta Grabowska. At: https://toolboxtalksldn.wixsite.com/website/post/the-art-of-slow-looking-by-marta-grabowska (Accessed 28/09/2020).

Kawauchi, R. (2020) ‘Keeping the fire going: a visual response to coronavirus’ In: The Guardian 19/06/2020 At: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2020/jun/19/keeping-the-fire-going-a-visual-response-to-coronavirus (Accessed 28/09/2020).

Kawauchi, R. and Chandler, D. (2011) Illuminance. Aperture. New York.

Ward, O. (2014) Ways of Looking: How to Experience Contemporary Art. Laurence King Publishing. London.

Photography During a Global Pandemic

Arpita Shah gave us a talk on photographers who have produced work during the Covid pandemic. She (and we) looked at multiple genres and discussed the work done during lockdown across the world. Clearly some people have managed to use the time very productively. She showed us the work of 19 artists – all very different. Inevitably, some I enjoyed more than others. The theme of taking images though windows was recurring – inevitably in this situation, although one person – Robert Ormerod used a drone, and others worked with archives.

Rania Matar’s work – Across windows was one I really liked. She showed people though a pane of glass. The reflections and the surrounding windows took equal weight to the people. Many of them were looking away from her, past her gaze rather than overtly engaging. Some look trapped, others resigned. None are joyful. They are simply titled with the name of the person and the place. I have since looked at other series by Matar. Her main focus is on showing girls and women and their identity. She (Matar, s.d.) shows a series of portraits of women, usually outside, often half hidden by foliage. The clothing has been carefully matched to the surroundings – Alasia – in a white dress standing upright in a field of (I think) cotton, Lisa – with her hair echoing the colour of the wood panels she stands against. The images are taken either in the US (where she lives) or in the Middle East (where she comes from) and ‘explore the issues of personal and collective identity….to portray the raw beauty of their age….and the organic relationship they create with their environment’.() Most of the portraits are ¾ length, but not all, they include distant shots and close ups. Most are individuals, but some are pairs of girls. Many are looking away or are pictured from behind. This series is due to come out in book format next year. I will watch for it.

© Rania Matar – Alasia, Gambier Ohio, 2018

Lisa Sorgini (Hirve, s.d.) also has photographed people though glass. In this case the images are much darker. The reflection is important, but the window itself is rarely seen. She has concentrated on images of the mother and child. Often much of the body is lost in shadow, only partly seen. They remind me of the early Dutch paintings – although I am not sure why – I think the colouring and the density of the shadows. This work seems to be an extension of an earlier series Mother which again shows mother and child – although here in a much lighter setting.

Clara Leeming’s work – again though windows contrasts by being much more fun filled. The people are smiling, engaged with the fun of having their photos taken – maybe it is a bit of light relief in a day filled with sameness and boredom. This was taken in Britain, so the images are more instantly recognisable.

One of the series I most enjoyed was Neha Hirve – both your memories are birds – (Hirve, s.d.) where she , having moved to her to her childhood home in India just before lockdown, was staying with her elderly grandparents so took images if them, details such as their hands and the environment they were in. Most images are black and white, with sudden bursts of colour – a yellow Marigold glove, brilliant red flowers lit up in the dark.  Simple and beautiful.

© Neha Hirve

Alexia Websters work I have already looked at in more detail as it fitted with work I have been doing – see Alexia Webster – Tracing Lives

Other people took images to form a diary of what they were doing.  There is a series of 3 photographers who were asked to take images of the lockdown for The New York Times and who produced 3 very different pieces of work. One (Devin Oktar Yalkin) said “This feels like the first time in my life where the immediacy of everything around me can be photographed all the time without worrying about anything else. There’s more clarity in being able to just look and watch things occur, especially in such a liminal space.” (Ruben and Webster, s.d.) () Elinor Carucci (Carucci, 2020) has focused on taking a very intimate series of images of her family – including a picture of hand-washing. Jocelyn Allen (Allen, s.d.) documented her pregnancy. Hard enough at any time – but now!

There’s were also several options where people showed how strange things had become. London at night without any people (Jan Enkelmann), social distancing while queuing (Agnese Sanvito).

Amy Elkins has been taking a series of self portraits and posting them on Instagram. She usages o variety of methods, cyanotypes, inverted black and whites (leaving her looking like a ghost). The discipline to take and post a daily image is awesome. On one of her posts she comments ‘Trying to wear gratitude like a cloak…. I’ve never been this challenged in my life’ (Elkins, s.d.) – is that about the photographs ? Or about life in general?

The piece of work I liked least was that by Rinko Kawauchi –Keeping the fire going  (Kawauchi, 2020) which is odd because I usually enjoy her work. For some reason these did not ‘click’ for me. I am practicing slow looking with them – leaving the series on my screen and seeing what happens. I may well come back to this in more detail.

I have now (some weeks later) done this – and this was the result! https://scottishzoeidentityandplace.blog/2020/09/28/rinko-kawauchi-keeping-the-fire-going/

We also looked at 2 OCA students work in some detail.  These were interesting to discuss and showed that it was definitely possible to make work under the present circumstances. Thanks to Emma and Sarah for sharing.


Allen (s.d.) Jocelyn Allen – Waiting For Things In A Time When… (2019-20). At: https://jocelynallen.co.uk/waitingforthings (Accessed 24/09/2020).

Carucci, E. (2020) A Photographer’s Diary of Life in Isolation. At: https://www.thecut.com/2020/03/elinor-carucci-photo-diary.html (Accessed 24/09/2020).

Elkins, A. (s.d.) Amy Elkins (@thisisamyelkins) • Instagram photos and videos. At: https://www.instagram.com/thisisamyelkins/ (Accessed  24/09/2020).

Hirve, N. (s.d.) both your memories are birds. At: https://nehahirve.github.io/corona.html (Accessed 23/09/2020).

Kawauchi, R. (2020) ‘Keeping the fire going: a visual response to coronavirus’ In: The Guardian 19/06/2020 At: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2020/jun/19/keeping-the-fire-going-a-visual-response-to-coronavirus (Accessed 24/09/2020).

Matar, R. (s.d.) SHE – Rania Matar Photographer. At: https://raniamatar.com/portfolio/she/index.php (Accessed 23/09/2020).

Ruben, J. and Webster, A. (s.d.) ‘The Quotidian and the Surreal’ In: The New York Times At: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/09/arts/movement-quarantine-photographs.html (Accessed 23/09/2020).