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Rinko Kawauchi receives Outstanding Contribution to Photography Award 2023

Rinko Kawauchi was recently announced as the Outstanding Contribution to Photography recipient of the Sony World Photography Awards 2023 by the World Photography Organisation. The acclaimed Japanese photographer has achieved international renown for her intimate and luminous images, capturing ephemeral moments of everyday life.

You can catch more than twenty images by Rinko Kawauchi at the Sony World Photography Awards 2023 exhibition, which makes a come back to Somerset House, London from 14 April – 1 May 2023. The selection, made by the artist, spans over twenty years of her career and highlights significant milestones and themes across some of her most iconic series: Illuminance (2011), AILA (2004), Utatane (2001), and Ametsuchi (2012).

Kawauchi was born in 1972 in Shiga Prefecture, Japan and first began taking photographs at the age of 19. In the early 1990s she worked as a photographer for an advertising agency, before moving to a Tokyo studio to focus on making her own work. She first gained international attention in 2001 after the publication of three photobooks, Utatane, Hanabi, and Hanako. Two of the series went on to win Japan’s most prestigious award for emerging photography, the Kimura Ihei Award. 

Kawauchi is influenced by Shinto, which holds that everything has a spirit or energy, called ‘kami’. Accordingly, Kawauchi’s lens is patient and empathetic towards its quotidian subjects: shimmering lights reflected in a mirror, a pair of hands braiding thread together, sunbeams flooding through the canopy of a forest. Her photographs have been compared to haikus, a style of short-form poetry originating from Japan which through its lines often reflects upon a wider meaning or truth. So too, Kawauchi’s spare visual language gives these seemingly small moments a sense of great weight and significance. 

The body of work she presents in the Sony World Photography Awards 2023 exhibition charts pivotal series from across her career. Her series Utatane (2001), AILA (2004) and Illuminance (2009) exemplify her idiosyncratic style, with glimpses of everyday scenes which reflect upon the cycle of life, and its fragility – the fraying of a net, a mouth opened to reveal a row of fillings, a blade of grass with droplets of morning dew. The exhibition also features work from Ametsuchi (2013), a series which marks a departure both in terms of technique and style. Following a dream, Kawauchi became fascinated by ‘noyaki (burning field)’, the controlled burning of crops before replanting. She has made numerous trips to southern Japan, where, using a large format camera mounted on a tripod she has captured these fires, contemplating the idea of the ritual cleansing of the earth, and her own rebirth.

‘This award is recognition of my work and will encourage me in my future activities. The exhibition brings a body of work that not only characterises my practice, but also presents an ambitious series created with a different method and approach. Through my photography, I seek to create works of art that act as a signpost for me to examine more closely the experiences I am living and what I am looking at.’ Rinko Kawauchi says.

The Outstanding Contribution to Photography honours a person or group of people that have made a significant impact on the photographic medium. As its 16th recipient, Rinko Kawauchi joins a distinguished list of iconic names including William Eggleston (2013), Mary Ellen Mark (2014), Martin Parr (2017), Candida Höfer (2018), Nadav Kander (2019), Gerhard Steidl (2020), Graciela Iturbide (2021), and Edward Burtynsky (2022) to name a few. 

The overall winners in the Student, Youth, Open and Professional competitions of the Sony World Photography Awards 2023 will be announced on 13 April 2023. For more information about upcoming announcements and winners please visit www.worldphoto.org

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