The Light Fantastic: Rinko Kawauchi’s Illuminance Still Shines on its 10th Anniversary

The Japanese photographer’s inspirational photobook more than deserves its new special edition.

It opens with an eclipse: the moon obscuring the sun from view save for a glittering halo of light. From here, Rinko Kawauchi takes us on a journey that meanders through luminosity and darkness, capturing everything from the glittering reflections of sunlight on the sea to the ominous black shadows of a crevice cutting deep into the earth. The photographs in this remarkable book shimmer, sparkle and recede. lluminance is a celebration of light and a tribute to the deepest depths of the dark.

After quietly building a personal portfolio whilst working for a few commercial photography studios, Japanese photographer Kawauchi became a cultural icon overnight with the simultaneous publication of a trio of ‘first’ books. In 2001, she released Utatane (siesta), Hanabi (fireworks), and Hanako (a portrait of a young woman of the same name) to critical acclaim and won Japan’s most prestigious award for emerging talent. Since then, Kawauchi has published more than 20 additional photobooks and she is now one of the most celebrated photographers of her generation.




“lluminance is a celebration of light and a tribute to the deepest depths of the dark”

Illuminance encapsulates the first 15 years of Kawauchi’s career and cemented her impressive reputation as a poetic, sensitive and creative artist. As the first of her books to be published outside of Japan, it brought her work to a wider international audience. This new 10th anniversary volume retains the juxtapositions and visual connections Kawauchi drew in the original version (as well as their careful sequencing) and includes additional texts by curator David Chandler, philosopher Masatake Shinohara and Aperture’s creative director Lesley A Martin.

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Kawauchi captured the majority of the photographs with her beloved Rolleiflex, a camera she first picked up at the age of 22. It’s a remarkable medium format twin lens camera that shoots at chest level while the photographer looks down at the scene through a viewfinder. The images she creates are in the Rolleiflex’s typical square format, which she exploits to suit her minute observations, capturing her subjects close-up and cropped to generate a palpable intensity.

“Through her appreciation of beauty in imperfection, Kawauchi evokes hope in the face of suffering”

Kawauchi draws our attention to the fine and fleeting aspects of life via scenes we might ordinarily overlook. She shoots the neat meniscus of a droplet of water poised on a leaf and the warm orange glow of a lit cigarette, a column of ash finely balanced on its tip. She finds beauty in the absolutely ordinary and persuades us to appreciate it too.

Illuminance is a book that chimes with our current mood. “The world is connected by what we cannot see,” Kawauchi has said. “In times of despair if we hold on to the things we believe are beautiful in life, that energy will change and affect the world in a positive way.” Through her appreciation of beauty in imperfection, Kawauchi evokes hope in the face of suffering. This brilliant book ends with an image of the moment that the sunlight begins to emerge from behind the moon.

Kate Neave is a writer and curator. She is the founder of Ellipsis Prints, a curated print project supporting womxn artists.

All images courtesy Aperture. © Rinko Kawauchi