Far from folklore and exotic clichés, Lausanne-based photographer Anoush Abrar shows us behind the scenes of the work of geishas, these Japanese artists who are neither courtesans nor prostitutes. His exhibition “White Mask” can be discovered at the L’Atelierphoto gallery in Nyon until October 31.
He likes nothing more than to enter places where photography rarely, if ever, goes: the operating rooms of the Tierspital in Bern, the world of Californian porn business, Ferrari collectors or the backstage of the Cannes Film Festival.
Anoush Abrar’s gaze also extends to less glamorous places which reveal a little-known reality. Like this work among the peasants descendants of Adem Jashari, the founder of the Kosovo Liberation Army, killed with 56 members of his family during an attack by Serbian forces in 1998.
A mysterious corporation
From the wildest luxury to the most extreme poverty, the Lausanne resident focuses his lens on subjects that sometimes arise unexpectedly. So with these women who are the last representatives of a mysterious corporation. A few hundred at most, whereas there were several tens of thousands in the 19th century.
Literally “person of the arts”, the authentic Japanese geisha, called geiko in Kyoto, follows a long training which will make her a sought-after artist and an interlocutor whose presence is reserved for a very wealthy clientele.
A photo from the “White Mask” series by photographer Anoush Abrar. [Anoush Abrar]
No sushi without chasselas
How did he manage to photograph these supposedly inaccessible geishas? He laughs: “It’s thanks to Vaudois wines! And to Pierre Keller, my former director at the École cantonale d’art de Lausanne, at the time president of the Vaudois wine office. He asked me to draw portraits of personalities who contribute to the development of Vaudois wines. Among them, a Japanese who fell in love with Lavaux, Naoyuki Miyayama. He swears by Chasselas to accompany sushi!”, tells RTS Anoush Abrar.
Later, during a trip to Japan with Pierre Keller, the photographer met Naoyuki Miyayama. Anoush Abrar had barely expressed the idea of photographing geishas when his host invited him to a long-planned evening and even had the geishas come in advance so that he could photograph them. A meeting that will be repeated over several years, leading to the work we see today.
Thanks to Naoyuki Miyayama, Anoush Abrar will experience astonishing and unique moments. In the best tea room in Kyoto, an ultra-private place where you come to choose geikos – the other name for geishas – for an evening. In the middle of a unique garden where each blade of grass is cut with small scissors. During a day of celebrations during which the geikos wear a black kimono and thank the Okasan, these highly respected women who train the geishas.
Far from folklore, the Lausanne photographer shows us behind the scenes of the work of these women. “They are living works of art. All their gestures are perfect, everything they do aims for perfection. I have created images with them that come out of my imagination, but it is difficult to photograph a geisha, to regain control of the photographer because of the fascination it exerts. It’s a wonder!”
Pierre Philippe Cadert/mh
Anoush Abrar, “White Mask”, L’Atelierphoto gallery, Nyon, until October 31, 2023.
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