It has been almost a year since the Japanese artist Keiichi Tahara left us. From landscapes to fashion photography, from portraits to still life, but also from sculptures to installations, Tahara defined himself above all as a “sculptor of light”.
His connection to France is what we chose to highlight in this exhibition, “Sens de Lumière”. “We used to say he was the most French Japanese photographer”, remembers Jean-Luc Monterosso, co-founder and director (1996 – March 2018 ) of the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris.
“I really want to catch the light”. – Keiichi Tahara, 2014.09 for Les Échos.
Born in Kyoto in 1951, it is with his grandfather, a professional photographer, that he discovers photography at the age of 12. However it is not until 1973 that his photography career really came into being. Following a theatre troupe on their European tour, Tahara takes the decision to stay in France, where he moves into a small room under the rooftops of Paris in the neighborhood of Saint-Michel . There, alone and with no command of the language, he starts photographing the view from the window of his little attic. What begins as a way of connecting the outside and the inside world, and to himself would become later one of his most renowned series, Fenêtres (Windows). He later wins the Grand Prix des Jeunes Photographes in Arles in 1977 and begins thereafter a long series of portraits of artists, intellectuals and art personalities (most of them French or based in France), which are exhibited alongside some of the Windows.
Keiichi Tahara eventually ended up staying in France for more than 30 years.
It is with the Portraits series that one can grasp the extent of young Tahara’s personal trajectory. From a young student isolated in his small room, the one who wanted to make a connection with the outside world won his wager: 5 years later, he faced the greatest names of the art world of his time and tried to connect them with a wider world. Working in series, Tahara connects each of his subjects to one another. They are now all part of the big family of artists who posed for him. Ultimately, this series is about all the anonymous and multiple associations that photography allows. Because isn’t it, in the end, the great potential of photography to show to a larger public the image of all these individuals, influential for their art or their actions, but whose face remains unknown?
Orchestrating, re-orchestrating, Tahara staged his subjects. Reflections, playing hide and seek with light, shadow and forms. Bare or overflowing environments, the photographer multiplied the possibilities. It is also often by diptychs or triptychs that the portraits were presented. Nothing is frozen. The options are open, the images are fluid. And in this very flexibility in which the works are presented we recognize Tahara’s subtle message: just as light has a thousand facets, and as its orientation changes at every moment of the day, nothing in the living and in the people that he photographed has only one story, one facet. Everything is complex and beautiful in the plurality of its directions and possibilities.
Keiichi Tahara, Sens de Lumière
May 25 to July 7, 2018
119 rue Vieille du Temple