Keep an Eye on Contemporary Japanese Photographer Rinko Kawaguchi

Photos by Rinko Kawaguchi
Photos by Japanese photographer Rinko Kawaguchi

Rinko Kawaguchi is a contemporary Japanese photographer whose work is characterized by a serene, poetic style, depicting the ordinary moments in life. Born in Shiga, Japan in 1972, Kawaguchi became interested in photography while studying at Seian University of Art and Design, where she graduated in 1993.

After graduation, Kawaguchi worked in advertising for several years. Then, in 2001 she launched her career as a fine art photographer by simultaneously releasing a series of three photographic books – Utatane, Hanabi, and Hanako. Overnight, her works created a sensation in Japan’s photography world, and established her reputation.

Kawaguchi’s initial domestic success was quickly followed by major exhibitions overseas. Illuminance, Kawauchi’s first work published outside Japan, quickly gained the photographer international recognition for her nuanced images that portray fragments of everyday life. Kawaguchi’s photographic style has been described as ‘exposing the secrets of the banal’.

Photos by Rinko Kawaguchi
Photos by Japanese photographer Rinko Kawaguchi

Shooting primarily with a six-by-six format camera, Kawaguchi concentrates on capturing natural phenomena in her images, becoming a master of finding stillness and purity in everyday life. Kawaguchi explains that her photos are supposed to give you the feeling of ‘looking in on a moment about to happen’. Her photographs have been described as a visual form of haiku (a style of Japanese poetry) – portraying simple beauty in an uncluttered manner. Emphasizing this, many of her photos are accompanied by haikus she has composed herself.

Rarely include people, Kawaguchi’s photos range in subject from city streets, flowers and oceans, to sandwiches and even a dead animal lying on the side of a road.

Following her initial success, Kawaguchi won many prestigious photography prizes, and published multiple photo books.

Photos by Rinko Kawaguchi
Photos by Japanese photographer Rinko Kawaguchi

Commenting on her style, Kawaguchi says, “It’s not enough that the photograph is beautiful. If it doesn’t move my heart, it won’t move anyone else’s heart.”

Although photography remains her main focus, since 2012 Kawaguchi has also forayed into video production, producing several works that compliment her photography. Yet, photography remains her main passion, and she has continued publishing compilations of her still work in book form – the latest being her recent release of “The River Embraced Me” in early 2016.

Kawaguchi is currently actively participating both solo and group exhibitions around the world, while living and working in Tokyo.

Why a 50mm Lens should be your second lens purchase

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Chances are you bought your first DSLR with a kit lens (something like a18mm-55mm, or 24mm-105mm, for example). Kit lens are versatile and will serve you well as you get used to your new camera. But at some point you’ll start thinking about what lens you should buy next.


Many people will lust after a new zoom or telephoto lens, but I always suggest picking up a simple 50mm prime lens.

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Most popular brands offer solid, high-performing 50mm prime lens (f1.8) at reasonable prices (between US$100-200). For a second lens, I recommend getting a low-cost f1.8 50mm lens – you’ll be amazed, and pleased, with their performance. Higher-end, 50mm lenses (f1.4 and f1.2) are available, but they’re bigger, heavier, and expensive.

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Prime or fixed focal length lenses offer great value as they are usually inherently sharper than zoom lenses. This is partly due to there being less moving parts inside the lens, and less lens elements.

Prime lenses also produce beautiful ‘bokeh’ (how the lens renders the out-of-focus areas behind your subject) than most zooms.

B&W closeup of hooded woman
B&W closeup of hooded woman

50mm lenses are also lightweight (between 4-6 ounces, depending on the brand), and small, which make them easy to carry and unobtrusive when you’re using them.

The 50mm prime lens is also versatile. It’s great for street photography and wide open landscapes. It’s also a great portrait lens, just long enough to remove distortion from your subject’s face and flatter them a bit.

Li River in Guilin, China
Li River in Guilin, China

In addition, the 50mm f1.8 allows low light photography that kit zoom lenses can’t (even if they cover the 50mm focal length), because of their aperture limitations. A 50mm f1.8 lens will give you 2 F-stops more to open up versus a typical kit lens. You’ll be amazed at the photos you’ll be able to take in low light situations where flash can’t be used. Best of all, you’ll be able to take the shots without having to increase ISO to ridiculous levels.

Tokyo Tower by aotaro
Tokyo Tower at night

So, what’s the disadvantage to purchasing a 50mm prime lens? Simple… you’re going to have to learn how to use your feet! Instead of just zooming-in as you do with your kit lens, you’ll have to take a couple of steps closer to your subject. But, believe it or not, what seems like a disadvantage at first will actually make you a better photographer. You’ll be forced to actually think about composition more, and in doing so your photography will improve.

The shots you’ll be able to take with your new 50mm lens will renew your enthusiasm for taking photos.


Vietnamese Photographer Cuong Do Manh Documents Albino Twins

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Released a year before completing his university studies, Cuong Do Manh’s photo-story ‘Twins’ created a sensation in Vietnam in 2013.

Portrait of Vietnamese Albino twin brothers
Portrait of Vietnamese Albino twin brothers

The project consists of 20 photos that Cuong took of twin albino brothers, Huy and Hung, born into a poor family living in Ha Tinh province.

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In addition to the hardship of poverty, the brothers face added adversities imposed their albinism – such as the need to avoid the harsh sun, and poor vision. Through it all, they act like any little boys – playing and smiling impishly.

Albino twins bathing behind house
Albino twins bathing behind house

Cuong believes the project’s successful reception was based on the uniqueness of the brothers, and honesty portrayed in the photos. This was the result of taking time to gain their trust by spending time with them – eating together, playing together, and even sleeping with them.

Albino twins studying at school
Albino twins studying at school

People who view Twins easily relate to seeing two extraordinary young brothers living an ordinary life.

Albino twins playing with soap bubble
Albino twins playing with soap bubble

According to Cuong, “These photographs are a window to the world of Huy and Hung – and what a special, wonderful and different view it is to my own.”

Brothers forever
Brothers forever

Beijing’s Top Photo Spots

Bird's Nest, Beijing
View of the Bird’s Nest at night in Beijing (Photo by Curt Smith / CC-BY)

If you’re visiting Beijing and find you have some free time to go out and take a few photos, the city offers several wonderful locations to choose from.

Forbidden City, Beijing
The Forbidden City in Beijing during the day (Photo by Sam Greenhakgh / CC-BY)

No first time visitor to Beijing should miss the Forbidden City. The scale of the historic buildings and detail of the architecture are incredible, giving photographers a lot to focus on. (Tip: after exiting the north gate of the Forbidden City, turn right to get a great shot of the moat with the northeast turret tower in the background). You’ll want to make sure you have a wide angle lens with you!

Drum & Bell Towers, Beijing
Drum & Bell Towers, Beijing (Photo by spezz / CC-BY)

The Drum & Bell Towers is another great place to take snapshots. Aside from the two towers, the area is great for street photography of locals playing Mahjong, eating & drinking, or just relaxing.

789 Art Space, Beijing
Statue in 789 Art Space, Beijing (Photo by Khalid Albaih / CC-BY)

For something more modern, a visit to 798 Art Space with your camera can be a lot of fun. This district is full of coffee shops, art galleries and indoor and outdoor exhibitions. The outdoor display areas in particular will allow you myriad opportunities to get some interesting shots.

Summer Palace, Beijing
Summer Palace, Beijing (Photo by Jesœs Corrius / CC-BY)

The Summer Palace, China’s largest royal park, is the place to go is you want to shoot beautiful Chinese landscaping and architecture. Make sure you don’t miss the 17-arch bridge on Kunming Lake. (Tip: This is a great location to take some interesting black & white landscape photos).

Great Wall of china
Great Wall of China at Badaling (Photo by Keith Roper / CC-BY)

The Great Wall of China is a fantastic location to capture an iconic photo of your visit to Beijing. There are more than 20 different sections of the Great Wall around Beijing. The most visited section is the Badaling. However, for photos, most photographers agree the Jiankou section is actually the most scenic stretch of Great Wall near Beijing.

Many first-time travellers to Asia, particularly those on business, have asked about easily accessible photo opportunities in the cities they visit. This post is part of an ongoing series, each on a different Asian city, introducing a few photo locations for visitors with limited time.

Chinese Photographer’s “Portraits of the Self-Inflicted”

Reflection of woman's face in mirror
Reflection of woman’s face in mirror

Born in Beijing, China, Zhe Chen is a fine art photographer who has investigated and documented the self-inflicted activities of herself and others.

Dirty ashtray on white bedsheets
Dirty ashtray on white bedsheets

While growing up in Beijing, Zhe started scarring her flesh while in high school. She then ran away and took refuge at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California where she studied photography.

Close-up of woman's face
Close-up of woman’s face

Before she even turned 22, Zhe’s work attracted the attention of the Magnum Foundation and she was granted the Inge Morath Award for her second photography project entitled “Bees”.

Woman with bandaged arm holding fruit. From the 'Bees' project by Zhe Chen.
Woman with bandaged arm holding fruit. From the ‘Bees’ project by Zhe Chen.

In “Bees”, Zhe’s purpose was to record marginalized people in China, who, faced with chaos, violence, and alienation, feel compelled to leave self-inflicted physical traces and markings on their bodies.

Nude woman with burn marks on legs. From the 'Bees' project by Zhe Chen.
Nude woman with burn marks on legs. From the ‘Bees’ project by Zhe Chen.

Zhe found those she calls “Bees” by first showing them her own scars. This connection with their situation encouraged her subjects to be totally unselfconscious in front of her camera.

Woman behind dirty window. From the 'Bees' project by Zhe Chen.
Woman behind dirty window. From the ‘Bees’ project by Zhe Chen.

Currently living in Los Angeles, Zhe continues documenting her self-inflicted activities, while creating a series of projects focusing on body modification, human hair, post-traumatic stress disorder, identity confusion and memory.

Woman with long scar on her back. From the 'Bees' project by Zhe Chen.
Woman with long scar on her back. From the ‘Bees’ project by Zhe Chen.

Zhe holds a BFA in Photography & Imaging from Art Center College of Design.

May Photo Opportunity: Japanese Warriors on Parade

Mounted Samurai at Odawara Hojo Godai Festival
Close-up of mounted Samurai at Odawara Hojo Godai Festival(© LifeYouTV)

Odawara’s Hojo Godai Festival, held in early May, is an annual festival commemorating the five generations of the Hojo clan of Japan’s ‘Warring States’ period (Sengoku Jidai). This festival is a great place to capture photos of actors dressed as traditional Japanese warriors.

Samurai procession leaving Odawara Castle
Samurai procession leaving Odawara Castle during the Hojo Godai Festival in Odawara, Japan

The main event of the Odawara Hojo Godai Matsuri (festival) is the samurai warriors’ procession (musha gyoretsu), which proceeds from Odawara castle through the main streets of the city. The parade of nearly 2,000 people dressed as warrior troops (Musha-tai), cavalry (Kiba-tai), and gun troop (Teppo-tai) offers photographers a chance to capture a flavor of Japanese martial history.

Japanese warriors firing muskets at Odawara Hojo Godai Festival
Japanese warriors firing muskets at Odawara Hojo Godai Festival

Lending a lighter touch, following the warrior procession are ceremonial floats (mikoshi), and civilians performing the Lantern Dance (Chochin Odori), baton twirlers, and brass bands from the city’s junior high schools.

Mikoshi procession at Odawara Hojo Godai Festival
Mikoshi procession at Odawara Hojo Godai Festival (© bartman905)

Young Singaporean Fashion Photographer Makes A Splash

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Singapore-based Lenne Chai has built a reputation as an extraordinary fashion photographer in record time.

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First exposed to photography during a module on Photojournalism in her final year as a Mass Communication student, Lenne interned as a photojournalist for the Straits Times before launching her career as a freelance photographer.

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Making a splash in locally with her pastel-powered and unconventional images, Lenne soon caught the attention of Japan’s fashion industry and has since been regularly travelling to Tokyo, where she shoots for many leading Japanese publications.

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Lenne continues to expand her creative horizons by working on projects such as ‘Karaoke Party’ (a series of three fashion films presented as karaoke videos), and a collaboration with embroidery artist Teresa Lim titled ‘Sad Girls Club’.

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Lenne’s work has been featured in local and international publications such as NYLON Japan, Elle Girl (Japan), Harper’s Bazaar Singapore, Designaré, and SPUR (Japan).

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