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Louis-Cyprien Rials in Japan, a revelation tinged with bitterness
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Louis-Cyprien Rials in Japan, a revelation tinged with bitterness

Fired from all his high schools, Louis-Cyprien Rials very early resolved “to learn the world empirically”. The call of elsewhere led him first to Japan, at the age of 23. An experience that the French artist has rarely mentioned. However, in his eyes, this Japanese stay is “founder”. He anticipates all his future wanderings to Chernobyl, Iraq, Somalia or Nagorno-Karabakh. This is where he fell in love with photography. There also emerges a method, almost a dogma: “Never involve the viewer, stay in the objective school, like Bernd and Hilla Becher. »

Few countries, no doubt, lend themselves as much as Japan to this rejection of pathos and affect. Yet it was out of love that Louis-Cyprien Rials settled there for three years, from 2005 to 2008. An initiatory journey that propelled him, like so many others before him, into a universe of indecipherable signs. With his accomplice Adrien Missika, he first photographed the kobanthese tiny police stations sometimes wedged between huge towers.

iron discipline

But the spatio-temporal shift felt by any foreigner immersed in Japanese culture is materialized above all in a vertiginous project: a two-month road trip, in 2007, on the road linking Tokyo to Kyoto, to seek in contemporary Japan the landscapes of 53 Tokaido stations captured by the famous print painter Hiroshige. The journey is prepared with string.

To save money, Louis-Cyprien Rials rents rooms in the love hotels, those Japanese establishments where couples come for a few hours of privacy. At each stage, it relies on data from Google Earth. Sometimes he has to move 500 to 600 meters to stick closer to Hiroshige’s perspective. “At each station, I wondered how to be faithful, but not so extreme that the project lost its substance”, he explains.

“After years of wanting to grasp Japan, I told myself that I would never understand it. » Louis-Cyprien Rials

Rials imposes an iron discipline on himself to capture the decisive moment. In Tokyo, at the first station, in the Nihonbashi district, he will have to wait three nights before taking, at dawn, the perfect image of a deserted street, without cars or pedestrians. “It lasted two seconds for hours of waiting”, he says. Out of Tokyo, his frustration grows.

It is difficult to find in today’s Japan the sublimated ideal of Hiroshige. The intensive concreting has disfigured the countryside and the coasts. Plants bloomed off Ejiri. Freeway interchanges cut the perspective of an alley in Narumi. At the eighth station, in Oiso, he is seized with dizziness. The image he draws from it marries the perfect geometry of Hiroshige’s composition. But of nature, it is no longer a question.

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