the eyes, the ears


text by: Antonino Barbaro


Japanese photographer Rinko Kawauchi is a prolific artist who has published plenty of great books during her career as a fine art photographer. Her style and practice, characterised by the use of natural light, cropping and transparent colours, focus on the small mysteries of everyday life, those little things hardly noticeable for most us but still full of significance and hidden beauty that deserve closer attention.

The main characteristic of “the eyes, the ears,” lies in the perfect accordance between images and text. Throughout the book, images are presented along with short haiku poems written by the author herself. Those poems create a thin, delicate narrative that leads us through the images as gently as a butterfly’s flutter on an afternoon of spring. The book, as displayed from the title and cover, is dedicated to the senses and it is an invitation to forget all preconceptions about the world and rather feel it on a deeper, more intimate level.

Influenced by Shinto ideology and precepts, where everything is permeated by the same spirit – from the animated things to the mere stone – her work focuses on the poetic forces hidden behind the ephemeral and ordinary things such us scraps, insects, children’s life and animals.

Her narrative style is never clear but always open to interpretation, ready to be filled in by the viewer’s emotions and experiences. The main three colours leading the narrative are the blue of the spirit, the pink of the flesh and the yellow of the emotions. As for the location, this is somewhere in between the private space of intimacy and the public one of the city, considered as much full of spirit as nature.



Among some of the haiku included in the book, this one positioned somewhere at the beginning does very well set the mood and attitude of this work. Few and not very astonishing words tell us something we already know, but too easily forget. Besides, the poem is accompanied by a picture of a pole sticking out of the ground (1). Here the wrinkled surface has suffered the heat of the sun and remains helplessness victim of its circumstances. 

It is difficult to understand what is happening in this picture. At first look, we feel like we are floating in the outer space, orbiting around the sun into a sort of blue iris-made bubble that cradles us through the eternity of time.

The poem on the left says:

chasing after it 
I came to a place I never knew.
but it is where I’ve always wanted to go.
there is everything.
there is nothing.
all I wanted to watch was a beautiful butterfly fluttering around.
that’s why I knew
this was not my place

The place now shapes up a little more like the “place-I-never-knew” but where I’ve always wanted to go. Turning to the next page everything makes more sense. What at first seemed like a remote region of the Universe (2), might instead be a very close-up of this gorgeous blue butterfly (3). The author invites the viewer to relax, to feel and follow his instincts without much worrying where and how far away from the destination his journey is taking him. By doing so, he might end up somewhere he had not planned and finally find out this actually is where he was most desperate to arrive.



Moving on to this other image, the viewer find himself at a dinner table (4). Every detail here is so rich it creates a micro-world in itself. This image could be cropped-in many times more and still create meaningful scenes. The greens, gold and reds of the leftover food on this table are so well balanced it feels like it has been carefully painted by a meticulous hyperrealist artist.

The fragility of these empty glasses next to the dirty dishes with seashells, chopsticks and precious looking cutlery all around creates an atmosphere of delightful time spent in good company – as well as emanating melancholic feelings of abandonment. Little is known about the people who attended this meal and the reasons behind the meeting. Nonetheless, the feeling that something has been accomplished around this table is so powerful the viewer feels the euphoria and inebriation of this moment penetrating him through his eyes.

they are all meant
to be here
perfectly in balance.
and soon
they will be broken

In this spread, a picture of raw meat is presented right next to the one of this group of people (5). It seems like they are celebrating something important, dancing and drinking and just being in the moment. Again, the narrative is very open and we can’t exactly say what is happening. “Surely they are all meant to be there” like the haiku says, “perfectly in balance”. “And soon, they will be broken”, like pieces of meat on the counter of the Universe.

As the Author believes and tells us, everything is permeated by the same energy and spirit – everything originates from One and everything will come back to the one same source. Meaning it is all part of the same mystery of life, it can be a living creature as well as dead flesh.



A mix of medium, formats and technics shapes up the mood of the work. In this spread, like in some others along with the book, the author introduces the viewer to a scene straight from the contact sheet. Looking back at her previous work, it is easy to acknowledge how obsessed she is with flying birds and how sublime those images look. At first look, the viewer cannot avoid to feel the same amazement he felt when looking at those other images of birds. The airplanes flying over a crystal blue sky appear so alive and strangely animated it would not be a surprise to suddenly assist to a flap of their wings (6).

once in a while,
we should look into each others eyes.
otherwise we might feel lost. I’m so glad
that you are here.

This picture (7) perfectly represents the worries of feeling lost as well as the happiness of having somebody to care about, somebody to look straight into their eyes and feel blessed by their simple presence. It surely is one of the most effective ones: from the colours to the tones and balance of the composition, everything is harmoniously on point. The viewer’s emotions are both compressed and enhanced of pleasure and bliss right inside that eternal gap between the boy’s purple slipper on the right and the infinite white Universe underneath us.

This book, like most of Kawauchi’s work, is incredibly beautiful and everything within those pages is synchronised to that slice of unseen reality we are brought into. Its mixed technic is perfectly designed and presented to the viewer to enjoy every single detail of it.

It is difficult to not fall in love with those kinds of approaches to stories based on sensibility and open imagination – rather than a more structured narrative.

Although the actual size of the artefact is relatively small and might prevent the viewer from a richer visual experience, the reason behind it is quite understandable. In one of her interview, the artist explains that the size of her books often represent the world she is living at that specific time. More recent publications have experienced a remarkable increase in size according to the world she is living at this stage of her artistic career.

Rinko Kawauchi is a unique artist and her sensibility keeps evolving across her whole body of work. The way she deals with the small mysteries of life is a brilliant opportunity to reconnect with the things that matter. An opportunity to stop, feel and breath.

Copyright © Rinko Kawauchi and PHROOM, all rights reserved

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