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photo-eye Book Reivews: Illuminance

Illuminance, By Rinko Kawauchi.
Published by Aperture, 2011.
Reviewed by Nicholas Chiarella
Rinko Kawauchi Illuminance
Photographs by Rinko Kawauchi.
Aperture, 2011. Hardbound. 352 pp., 130 color illustrations, 8-1/2x11".

Rinko Kawauchi’s Illuminance demonstrates the transcendence of media over message. Her overwhelming, complex volume of images undermines expectation, supplanting it with excitement, as photograph after photograph carries the viewer from simple to sublime, seemingly without effort.

Each image is a puzzle for the viewer to decode; each requires attention to the precise quality of light. The process inverts photography, capturing and conveying light, rather than using light to capture and convey. The objects of every photograph—whether obvious or obscure—are redefined by the manner in which they interact with light. The result is a catalogue of subjective spectral analysis—a visual vocabulary for the interplay of light, landscape, and object. A nursing infant, a roadside pool of blood, sakura, and kaleidoscopes all attain an equal weight as descriptions of the behavior of light.

Illuminance, by Rinko Kawauchi. Published by Aperture, 2011.
Illuminance, by Rinko Kawauchi. Published by Aperture, 2011.
Time, even, is realized in its contingency upon expression through light. Two cascades of water are shown on facing pages. On the left, a torrent of drops escapes an indoor swimming pool, trailing from the foot of a swimmer. On the right, a cascade of dew rests suspended between saplings on a canopy of spiderweb. In both images, motionless water implies intense movement. Only after one pulls away from the images is there room to consider the difference in exposures, that the scenes themselves would be experienced differently in time.

Illuminance, by Rinko Kawauchi. Published by Aperture, 2011.
The sequencing of images creates an incredible amount of joy and surprise, as well. Natural settings, domestic scenes, and rural and urban life coalesce. Kawauchi’s vocabulary plays out confidently, and the characteristics of light constitute a method for creating photographic syntax and meaning. Illuminance is a generous and exhilarating work.—NICHOLAS CHIARELLA

Selected as one of the Best Books of 2011 by:
Kevin Messina
John Gossage
Martin Parr
Lauren Henkin
John Jenkins
Antone Dolezal
Horacio Fernández
Alec Soth
Marco Delogu

NICHOLAS CHIARELLA is the imaging specialist at the Palace of the Governors Photo Archives in Santa Fe, New Mexico. His poems and photographs have appeared in Santa Fe Trend, BathHouse, Slideluck Potshow Santa Fe, and other venues. He is a member of Meow Wolf artist collective, contributing technical and design skills to performance and art installations. Chiarella graduated from the St. John's College GI program in 2007. He can be reached at