Portraits Of Kyoto
Tatler Singapore|May 2021
Singaporean photographer Russel Wong gets insider access into the famously private world of the geisha in Kyoto and shares the first images from this passion project spanning 13 years— and counting—in a new double‑bill exhibition at the Asian Civilisations Museum
 Hashirin Nurin Hashimi

It was on a Monday in February last year, only weeks before international travel was grounded due to Covid‑19, when Russel Wong received a text message from a friend in Kyoto: there is a forecast for snow in the city on Friday morning. When the forecast remained on Wednesday, Wong immediately bought his plane ticket and arrived in Kyoto on Thursday night, just in time to capture the winter scene at the golden pavilion of the iconic Kinkakuji Temple the next morning (see p.24).

Such are the lengths that the Singaporean photographer, renowned for making portraits of Hollywood celebrities such as Jackie Chan, Zhang Ziyi and Isabella Rossellini and numerous Time magazine covers, would go to get the perfect shot. You see, it hardly ever snows in Kyoto—and Wong would know for he has made between six to eight trips annually to the old capital of Japan over the past 13 years, with the singular focus of documenting the lives of the city’s geisha community, or geiko in the local dialect, along with the beauty of its nature and architecture.

Kyoto is the subject of one half of a new double‑ bill exhibition, Life in Edo | Russel Wong in Kyoto, at the Asian Civilisations Museum. “There are very few places you go to where you still feel like you are in the old world. Kyoto is definitely one of them, with its traditional wooden machiya houses, women in kimonos … it’s not just the physical architecture, but the people too. There’s a certain old‑world charm to it,” enthuses Wong.

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