When Rinko Kawauchi was living alone in Tokyo in 1997, she started photographing fireworks. She was thinking out what type of photographer she wanted to be at the moment, a process she describes as "agonising trial and repetition."
She would often see firework displays in the evenings, which she describes as "a sort of healing... Alongside people of all ages, I would look up at the sky and marvel at the beautiful sparks." They would disappear in a second, and we would return to our normal lives. Such times seemed like deliverance in a chaotic world: a confirmation of being alive."
Her photos from that period are part of a group show at the V&A dedicated to the general topic of fire, which includes finalists for this year's Prix Pictet. Many of the images in the exhibition concentrate on terrible incendiary power: the conflagration and aftermath of forest fires, which are becoming an increasingly regular characteristic of our warming globe, as well as the charred destruction that fire can do to habitats and populations. In such backdrop, Kawauchi's images reveal little epiphanies of human delight.
In its collaborative connection with the skies, this one has a medieval feel about it. The audience, bathed in milky blue light, focuses its gaze eastward on the unexpected, man-made marvel.
The unique brightness over the horizon, with its trail of fire, seemed scarcely dimmed by habit, as if it were a cosmic event or a portent. "During my image-making process, I always keep poeticism in mind," Kawauchi explains. Far from being a nighttime diversion, her firework photographs impacted her later work, which has focused on capturing the ways in which daily reality is sometimes overwhelmed with startling and transitory light.