Rinko Kawauchi is a Japanese photographer. Her work is characterized by a serene, poetic style, depicting the ordinary moments in life. Since she began her photographic career, Kawauchi's photographs contained a unique aesthetic and mood, capturing intimate, poetic, and beautiful moments of the world around her. They often have brilliant and radiant light that gives them a dream-like quality. The sublimity of her photographs is further enhanced by her use of soft colors as well as her awareness of the beauty in even the most average moments.
There is not one specific theme or concept that Kawauchi chooses to explore with her image creation; rather, she does it spontaneously, observing and reacting to everything that is around her before doing any sort of editing. She focuses on just shooting, and photographing everything that attracts her eyes before looking back and thinking about why she was interested in those subjects. Another subject that she explored in her book, Ametsuchi
, was the practice of religious ceremonies and rituals that hinted at an earthly cycle involving the concepts of time and impermanence. In the book, she depicts Japan's Mount Aso, a sacred site for a Shinto ritual called yakihata, and its volcanic landscape. The ritual is a long-standing tradition dating back about 1,300 years in which farmland is burned yearly to maintain its sustainability for new crops as opposed to using chemicals, and the communities at Aso are among the few that continue this tradition. Ironically, witnessing essentially the rebirth of farmland take place, Kawauchi claims that she burned away her old self and was reborn herself.
In her book Halo
, she continues to explore that theme with different rituals at other locations. She traveled to Izumo, Japan to witness a ritual that involves the lighting of sacred flames to welcome the gods. She also went to the Hebei province of China to see new year celebrations, including a 500-year-old tradition of throwing molten iron at the city walls to make their own fireworks.
Kawauchi became interested in photography while studying graphic design and photography at Seian University of Art and Design
where she graduated in 1993. She first worked in commercial photography for an advertising agency for several years before embarking on a career as a fine art photographer. She has mentioned that she continues to work the advertising job. Her background and experience with design have influenced the edits and arrangements of photos in her series. Kawauchi often thinks about new ways to see her photographs, allowing her to continue to find new meaning and significance in her work. There is little known about her personal life and family, but through her photo book Cui Cui
she portrays the memories of her family, which she has said to have been shooting for over a decade. The photos in the said book capture all the ordinaries and emotions of life, ranging from the happiness of childbirth to the heartbreak of death.
At age 19, she began making prints of her first black-and-white photographs, and it wasn't until five years later that she started printing color photographs. After experimenting with different cameras, she decided to stay with the Rolleiflex
, which she still uses.
In 2001, three of her photo books were published: Hanako
(a Japanese girl's name), Utatane
("catnap"), and Hanabi
("fireworks"). In the following years she won prizes for two of the books in Japan. In 2004 Kawauchi published Aila
; in 2010, Murmuration
, and in 2011 Illuminance
Kawauchi's art is rooted in Shinto, the ethnic religion of the people of Japan. According to Shinto, all things on earth have a spirit, hence no subject is too small or mundane for Kawauchi's work; she also photographs "small events glimpsed in passing,"
conveying a sense of the transient. Kawauchi sees her images as parts of series that allow the viewer to juxtapose images in the imagination, thereby making the photograph a work of art and allowing a whole to emerge at the end; she likes working in photo books because they allow the viewer to engage intimately with her images. Her photographs are mostly in 6×6 format. However, upon being invited to the Brighton Photo Biennial
in 2010, Kawauchi first photographed digitally and began taking photos that were not square.
Kawauchi also composes haiku poems. She lived for many years in Tokyo and in 2018 moved to the countryside on the outskirts of the city.