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.

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

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.

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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Malay Photographer’s Work is Defined by Thought and Vision

Thomas Leong is a self-taught photographer who loves black and white minimalist photography. Long exposures, minimalism and simplicity are hallmarks of this artist’s stunning work.

Calm After The Storm

Thomas describes his photographic vision as, ‘creating a connection between viewer and subject; using imagination, understanding and feeling that provoke one’s emotion.”


Born in Ipoh, Malaysia, Thomas is currently living in Singapore where he practices photography as a hobby. He makes a living as a Technical Manager in semiconductor equipment.

Left: "Crossroad"Right: "Frozen"
Left: “Crossroad” Right: “Frozen”

Leong actively uses social media to share his images. You’ll find him on 500px, Flickr and Facebook. Judging from his photos, Leong should certainly consider delving into photography as a profession.

black & white long exposure photos
black & white long exposure photos

“Fine art is work defined by the photographer’s thought and vision; it is the truth behind art.” Thomas Leong

Left: "Anarchy" / Right: "Contemplation"
Left: “Anarchy” / Right: “Contemplation”

Not Every Photographer Is An Aspiring Artist

Tied-up in Jakarta
Indonesian man in costume in Jakarta

What determines whether a photographer is an artist? For one thing, artists have a personal objective. Before they even pick up their camera they have a specific vision of what they want to create – what’s often referred to as the ‘story they want their photo to tell’. Similar to artists who use other media, the challenge for these photographers is to actually accomplish their vision. That’s where their creativity, planning, imagination, technical skills, and post-processing talent come into play.

Another thing photographic artists share is a strong opinion of which of their photos is ‘good’. Every artist takes hundreds, thousands, of photos. Amongst them are a lot of average shots, some really awful images, and one or two photos that they believe successfully represent what they aimed to capture – whether you agree or not. Inevitably, those photos are the only ones the artist presents to the public.

The third thing I’ve noticed about photographers who can be called artists is that all have in common a persistent sense of dissatisfaction. I’ve never come across someone I consider an artist who is not still searching for a way to improve their photography. They’re perpetually looking for ways to improve their ability to capture with their camera the vision they have in their mind.

Keep in mind that the label ‘artist’ does not equate with ‘successful artist’. Most artists never find success. On top of that, many have their works derided and dismissed. That doesn’t mean they aren’t artists.

Most people taking photos have never given the above much thought for the simple reason that the purpose of their photography has never been ‘to create art’.

Street food - stall in Japan
Crowd in front of street food stall in Japan

“Check out this photo I took!” A phrase we’ve all heard a million times. Our standard responses range from “awesome” to “looking great” to “where was that?” This usually leads into a conversation about the subject of the photo – you, your lunch, the location, etc… and the photo is never looked at again.

When people take – then share – a snapshot, they’re satisfied with the above scenario. The photo served its purpose. It got a conversation started.

For the vast majority of people taking and sharing photos today, those photos serve as a part of their overall communication – just as text does. These people aren’t trying to make you think deeply about something, nor are they trying to tell a story – they’ll do that with text messages, or verbally if they’re standing next to you.

And that’s fine. It just means that in today’s digital age, in addition to text and emojis, photos are also a means of communication.

A more traditional use of photos by the masses is as a means of capturing and sharing memories. Family outings, a child’s first steps or graduation, places we’ve been, and people we met. The desire to record a memory remains as strong today as it was hundreds of years ago when people would commission a painting of a family member. These ‘memory’ photos (for lack of a better word) are important to us regardless of whether they were taken by a professional photographer in a studio, or taken by a family member with a smartphone.

Backlit Japanese Woman
Backlit Japanese woman in kimono

Another group of photographers are commercial photographers – those who are commissioned to take photos for specific purpose – ranging from family portraits to product shots for a company. While it can be argued that some of their commercial work is artistic, by default it doesn’t qualify as art as it is based on a client’s objectives – not on the artist’s vision. (Interestingly, quite a few commercial photographers are actually accomplished artists whose commercial work pays the bills).

So, when you think of the hundreds of millions of people taking photos, it’s really a very tiny minority who are taking photos with the objective of creating art.

A method of communication, a tool for recording memories, a way of telling a story – the purpose a person has when they press the shutter button determines whether they are an artist, or not.

Vichaya Pop, a Very Impressive Thai Photographer

Boys with water buffalo in river
Boys with water buffalo in river, Thailand

A native of Bangkok, Vichaya Pop’s photography offers outsiders a glimpse into rural Asia life from a local’s point of view.

Boy playing with top
Boy playing with top in rural village

Although looking like studio shots, this Thai photographer captures his images only using beautiful natural light.

Father and son in hut
Father and son in hut, Thailand

The objective of Vichaya’s wide range of photos taken in his hometown Bangkok, as well as North Thailand or Myanmar, is to capture intimate moments of rural Asian life.

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Currently, Vichaya is expanding his range beyond Thailand, to other corners of Asia.

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