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Arif Iqball

Glimpses of the Floating World

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Outside Japan there is often a misunderstanding about the role of the Geisha and that misunderstanding comes from different literary and movie interpretations/fictionalization by non-Japanese at different points in history. The difficulty also comes from the inability to recognize/accept that female entertainers can exist in cultures without engaging in any form of sexual entertainment.

The historical city of Kyoto, Japan is the true center of this floating world and home to five Kagai (literally flower towns, but specifically, performance districts) where you can see Geishas today. The oldest Kagai dates back to the fifteenth century and the tradition of the Geisha continues in Kyoto in the true manner and spirit as it has historically, where the women take pride in being “women of the mind” versus “women of the body”. By all local/Japanese definitions, these women are living art as well as the pinnacle of Japanese eloquence, good manners, style and elegance and are highly respected in Japanese society as artists. Some of their teachers have been labeled as “Living National Treasures” by the Japanese Government. The “Gei” of the Geisha itself means Art and “sha” means a person. Historically both men and women have been labeled Geisha although that word is seldom used and Geiko and Maiko (Apprentice Geiko) are the more appropriate forms of address.

There has been very little work done to photograph the artistic side of the Geiko and Maiko and my work is an effort to see them as living art and to be able to portray them in both formal and informal settings. Behind the painted face is really a teenager/young woman working very hard through song, dance, music, and witty conversation to make the customers of the tea houses escape from their world of stress to a world of art/humour/relaxation and laughter.

Most of this work was done in Medium Format to enable the viewer to eventually see and feel the larger photograph itself as art and I hope that this broader work can shed a new light to the understanding of the Maiko and Geiko and bring respect to them as artists from the non-Japanese viewer.

 

Bio

Arif Iqball was born in Pakistan in 1964 and has spent a third of his life each in Pakistan, US, and Japan respectively.  His curiosity about the balance between modernity and tradition originally attracted him to Japan and in the process, he completed a Masters Degree in Japanese Studies with an interest in Japanese Literature and the visual aesthetic of old Japanese movies.

An avid travel photographer, he uses a nostalgic lens to find beauty in ordinary life and people and is attracted to traditions and artists who are fading away in this modern world.  When completed, this interim work on the Geiko and Maiko in Kyoto will be presented both as a book, and as an exhibit.

His Japan related photographs have appeared in the Washington Post, Lonely Planet, and in Children books.

He currently lives and works in Tokyo.

 

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Arif Iqball

 

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Mourning the loss of almost 20,000 people gripped Japan yesterday on the anniversary of the March 11, 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster. While the nation has made enormous strides recovering from the triple disaster, yesterday was was a time for remembrance. But the country is rebuilding even as it still suffers the loss of lives and the economic effects of an estimated $210 billion price tag - the costliest natural disaster in human history. Gathered here are images from memorial services, the rebuilding efforts, and of people forging ahead with altered lives a year on from the catastrophe. -- Lane Turner (40 photos total)
Families release a paper lantern in memory of the victims of last year's earthquake and tsunami, on March 11, 2012 in Natori, Japan. (Daniel Berehulak /Getty Images)

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Nearly a year after the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster that struck Japan, a 20-km (12-mi) radius exclusion zone remains in place around the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Residents were evacuated quickly, leaving behind many things, including pets and livestock. Members of United Kennel Club Japan recently ventured into the zone to rescue abandoned dogs and cats that have been fending for themselves for months. The Japanese government recently said it would draw up new evacuation zones by the end of April, and that areas where annual radiation levels are currently higher than 50 millisieverts will not be deemed suitable for living for at least five years. Below are recent images from inside Japan's exclusion zone. The last six images are interactive: starting with number 29 click them to view a fading before/after comparison of Google Streetview images. [34 photos]

Members of United Kennel Club Japan (UKC Japan) care for pets which were rescued from inside the exclusion zone around the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, at the group's pet shelter in Samukawa town, Kanagawa prefecture, on January 25, 2012. Dogs and cats that were abandoned in the Fukushima exclusion zone after last year's nuclear crisis have had to survive high radiation and a lack of food, and they are now struggling with the region's freezing winter weather. A 9.0-magnitude earthquake and massive tsunami on March 11 triggered the world's worst nuclear accident in 25 years and forced residents around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant to flee, with many of them having to leave behind their pets. (Reuters/Issei Kato)

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Despite Japanese government refusal of admittance to the 20 kilometer "No Go" Zone surrounding the devastation of the nuclear power plant of Fukushima Daiichi, Photojournalist Pierpaolo Mittica went inside the zone several times last July to document the situation. This seemed like a natural follow-up to his award-winning work and book covering the aftermath of the disaster at Chernobyl.

Lens Culture is honored to present 30 powerful images from this new investigation, along with text by the photographer. See and read the whole story here in Lens Culture.

mittica-fukushima_16.jpgInside an abandoned house devastated by the Tsunami, from the series Fukushima "No Go" Zone. © Pierpaolo Mittica

mittica-fukushima_14.jpgAbandoned house, Namie city, from the series Fukushima "No Go" Zone. © Pierpaolo Mittica

mittica-fukushima_28.jpgTEPCO workers, from the series Fukushima "No Go" Zone. © Pierpaolo Mittica

mittica-fukushima_20.jpgResidents going back home to collect their belongings, Tomioka city. © Pierpaolo Mittica

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Abe describes the radiation particles as an “invisible snow”, “A snow you can’t see has covered the area, and has brought a long, long winter to Fukushima,” he said.

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