Photographs from two decades in a remote village outside of Kyoto

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Shiotani is a small, isolated Japanese village nestled 47 km from central Kyoto, in the mountains of Northern Prefecture. It has a population of around 47 people, most of whom lead a traditional agricultural lifestyle. This is where the wife of award-winning Swedish photographer and filmmaker Anders Edström grew up. In 1993, during a visit to his wife’s family home, Anders began capturing what he saw in the city, initiating a 23-year-old project documenting village life that now takes the form of an enlarged photo book, Shiotani.

“At first it wasn’t an art project,” says Anders. “It was in 2006 that my wife’s grandmother asked if she could see some of the photos – because I hadn’t shown any of the photos I had taken so far. So in 2008 I made a photo album thick enough for her with all the photos. By making this photo album, I realized [it] could turn into a really interesting book. ”

Compiled from over 600 photos spanning 1993 to 2015, Shiotani records the life of the inhabitants of the village in great detail. With a particular interest in the more intimate rhythm of the Japanese countryside, Anders is drawn to the omnipresence. Rice fields, the movement of the morning mist, summer firecrackers, snow-covered roads, a poured coffee machine – he notices calm and simple scenes. It is the daily rhythm of life, the sweet resonance of slow change, that enchants the photographer.

“When I wake up in Shiotani, everything will be like the day before,” he said. “But when you keep doing this for years, then you realize that there are things that change in the world, even in the small corner of a shelf. You can see that the time has passed. the same with people. And I mean, it’s more evident with people, but still, when you see someone everyday, you can’t even see them getting old. “

an older man in a suit stood next to burnt logs

Inspired by images from the book, Anders’ four-part, eight-hour feature film, The works and the days (by Tayoko Shiojiri in the Shiotani basin). Shot over 14 months, the film recounts in a romanticized way what farmer life is like in the village.

“For me, making a photo book is very similar to making a film. There are a lot of times when the viewer may think ‘this is not a beautiful photo’, but even photographs that are not beautiful, photographs classics – when you rehearse them you get to something stronger. Having that difference in intensity level motivates you to want to keep turning the pages. That’s exactly my goal in making a movie.

a desk with papers and a laptop on it

Yet Anders draws a line between memories, both important and everyday, proving that the two can constantly be in conversation with each other. In order to give life to a “photo novel, a novel in pictures”, as Jeff Rian writes in one of the Shiotani, Anders overhauls and organizes his collection of family photos to represent the seasons of love and loss. In the book, the death of Anders’ wife’s grandparents is conveyed through careful documentation of Japanese ritual and tradition. Dressed in black, family and friends gather for two funerals – and, for the first time, in those brief moments, the executives are populated by more than a couple of close relatives. Elsewhere in the book we see the effects of industrialization on a rural landscape and the detrimental effects of government land management. Death punctuates this photographic passage of time.

In these photos, no one notices the camera, or Anders, conspicuously. Creating this photographic intimacy and confidence with such a delicate lightness took time. Not speaking Japanese at first, the photographer had to overcome the challenges of being a foreigner in another country. Getting to know the people of Shiotani was made possible by mutual respect for a quiet way of life. “It wasn’t until a while, when we got to know each other better, that they realized that I was just this Swede who likes to take pictures.”

a dark wooded area
men in suits were sitting around a table
the silhouette of a person indoors behind a curtain
a tube floating in swampy water

Credits


Photography Anders Edstrom

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