top コラムExhibition ReportVol.18 Keijiro Kai “Clothed in Sunny Finery” 甲斐啓二郎「綺羅の晴れ着」

Exhibition Report

Vol.18 Keijiro Kai “Clothed in Sunny Finery”

John Sypal

For the past several years Keijiro Kai has been photographing Japanese festivals- not the picturesque local ones with kimono and squealing children and cotton candy but the wild, sweaty, violently fleshy masculine spectacles that are intertwined deeply with Japanese Shinto culture. These events, called "Hadaka Matsuri" (lit. “naked festival”), have been held across Japan since ancient times. 


The pictures in “Clothed in Sunny Finery”, Keijiro Kai’s first exhibition at Zen Foto Gallery, were taken at four such festivals in Japan. While each event has its own customs and deep history, all share a component where participants to acquire (earn?) luck for the coming year. The “luck” is part of it, sure, but the literal struggles in Kai’s pictures suggest another result: an experience that transcends banal, daily life, into a sort of ecstasy created through sweaty, communal mayhem. 


Zen Foto Gallery, located on the second floor of the Piramide complex in Roppongi, has two large windows near the door. Anyone approaching the gallery is offered a glimpse of the current before they even walk through the door.  From outside- and even a few steps in, Kai’s pictures first appear as large rectangles in which swaths of faceless, glistening flesh pop out from the dark. These glossy lambda prints are rich in detail and sweat, and are presented in dimensions that intensifies the impact of his work. 

The closer one gets, faces of the participants can be made out amongst the dizzying maze of limbs – peering nearer, individuality can be discerned through their the expressions.  Each is a person, each an individual. Yet, stepping back, what’s photographed is a fantastical, frothing, noisy and singular organism.

The men in these photos are close yet distant- as “close” as a room with thousands of sweaty near-naked men roaring can be- but distant in that the “present” which they inhabit in his photographs exists beyond the boundaries of both our “proper” societal paradigm and time itself.


A note on the “how” of the work- - First, it’s important to know that Kai gets in the middle of the action with a Mamiya 7- a bulky, fragile medium format rangefinder camera.  (He’s got two- and he told me that both have gone in for repair several times over the years due to the environments he uses them.)

The 6x7 format Mamiya 7 allows for only ten frames per roll (he shoots Fuji Pro 400 film)- this means he must often duck out to reload.  Flash is integral to his work- it illuminates in a way which the human eye can’t see, plus these are held in the dark. Kai burns through cheap flash units he finds in used camera shops. 


This exhibition commemorates the publication of a new photobook of the same title. The photographs are printed large across the pages in a fleshy pallet that accurately matches Kai’s prints.  

The wrap-around cover is unique- it can be spread out into a gigantic poster. 


Before I left the gallery, I asked Kai what he wears when he’s photographing these events. He said for most he’s fully clothed (they’re often held in winter) but for access to one of them all he was wearing wis his camera and a traditional fundoshi loincloth. That’s the spirit! 


Still, a loincloth sure doesn’t leave much room to carry a spare roll of film. . .



甲斐さんにとってZen Foto Galleryでの初個展となる「綺羅の晴れ着」は、日本の4つの裸祭りを撮影した作品で構成されています。それぞれの祭りに独自の習慣や深い歴史があるのですが、共通しているのは、写真に写し出された、日常を超越し、汗をかきながら共同作業を行うことで生まれるエクスタシーのようなもの。


Zen Foto Galleryを訪れたことのある人は、大きな窓から作品をチラッと見ることができるのを知っていますよね。ギャラリーに入った瞬間、甲斐さんの写真はまず大きな長方形に見え、その中に顔のない、輝く肉体が暗闇から飛び出しているように見えます。この光沢のあるラムダプリントは、ディテールと汗に富んでおり、彼の作品のインパクトを強めるようなサイズで展示されています。


















  • Keijiro Kai “Clothed in Sunny Finery”
  • March 25 (Sat) — April 22 (Sat), 2023
  • Zen Foto Gallery, Tokyo
  • 甲斐啓二郎写真展「綺羅の晴れ着」
  • 会期:2023年3月25日(土)〜4月22日(土)
  • 会場:禅フォトギャラリー



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