Maiko: True Face
In one of the world's most modern countries, just one street away from the bustling district in Kyoto, you can visit the hanamachi district and step back in time. The Geisha tradition in Japan has been carefully preserved for more than 300 years, and it begins with Maiko, the young apprentice. I came to Kyoto to document a day in the life of a Maiko, and open a window into this unknown world.
Documenting a day in the life of Katsuhina, a young Maiko in her second year of training in Kyoto, begins her day with the complex work of having her hair done at her salon. Maiko wear up to four different hairstyles during their training, and here the hairdresser begins the process of creating the Wareshinobu, the style worn during the first three years. Using the ultra-wide 7-14mm lens at 7mm allowed me to capture three different views of Katsuhina and her hairdresser.
Maiko must complete a program of learning on their path to becoming Geiko. Katsuhina must master the Shamisen (a three-stringed, Japanese musical instrument), learn to sing and dance traditional performances, learn Kyō-kotoba (a dialect of Kyoto), as well as calligraphy and other arts. Here Katsuhina is taking her Shamisen lesson, and I chose to shoot this image with the new 20mm Lumix lens. It is a small and beautiful prime lens, with a natural field of view close to what the eye sees, and a wide aperture that allows you flexibility to shoot in lower light and isolate your subjects from the background.
The finishing touches on the Maiko hairstyle involves the addition of Kanzashi (Japanese traditional hair accessories). At a store specializing in these and other accessories, I used the Leica 25mm lens looking through a curtain of Kanzashi to capture a dreamy moment of Katsuhina browsing their new items. The 25mm lens creates wonderful bokeh.
Back at the tea house, Katsuhina begins the long process of applying her makeup. The bright and accurate LVF on the GX7 was a pleasure to use, appearing like you are almost looking through an optical viewfinder. It offers a more traditional alternative to shooting with the camera, versus holding the camera away and looking at the back LCD. Also, the incredibly useful vertically tilting feature of the LVF let me quickly experiment with lower perspectives like this one, which I shot with the sharp and fast 12-35mm lens at the wide end to get the entire end of the room in the picture.
Maiko wear highly colorful Kimonos and Obi (sashes). The process of getting dressed is a complicated one with many heavy layers and tight wraps, requiring much strength and the help of an Otokoshi - a male Kimono dresser. Many of the tea house rooms are dimly lit, so the large apertures of the 20mm 1.7 and the 25mm 1.4 lenses came in handy, like for this shot, where I used the Leica 25mm 1.4 lens to capture the final moment of an Otokoshi wrapping the Obi tight around Katsuhina's Kimono.
Maiko wear tall wooden sandals called Okobo, with the color of the straps indicating their status. I used the 35-100mm lens to zoom in close and shoot with a wide aperture to isolate the Okobo from the background. The tiltable LVF allowed me to easily get down low for this view, while the GX7's fast AF let me snap right at the moment I wanted.
The dances Maiko and Geiko perform are accompanied by Shamisen music.They are a stylized, disciplined form of dance using symbolic gestures to tell stories of love, sorrow and nature. The 45mm Leica lens is another one of the many great lenses in the Panasonic lens line-up, and I used it here to capture Katsuhina in the middle of one of her dances.
Originally starting his career in graphic design, Bernie cofounded a design agency where he art-directed award-winning projects such as Adobe.com and Apple's first online store. A journey through Brasil in 2006 sparked a full-time pursuit of photography, leading to international exhibitions at galleries and museums including the Museu Oscar Niemeyer and the Instituto Valenciano de Arte Moderno. He lives in New York.