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Kevin Dyer
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Two Geishas
This photograph has special meaning for me. Not only has it become one of my most popular portraits, it also serves as a reminder of several core principals that have helped me over the years. That is, persistence and stepping outside of your comfort zone can sometimes lead to great luck. As the name would imply, I took this photograph in the Gion district of Kyoto. In its prime, Gion was the most exclusive "hanamachi" (geisha community) in all of Japan. In fact, working in Gion was so prestigious that the geisha of Gion were referred to more respectfully as "geiko" or a woman of art. Nowadays, Gion is famous for being one of the few "hanamachi" left in Japan. Due to the rapid development, modernization and globalization of Japan, ancient cultural traditions and art forms have suffered atrophy. This, coupled with the fact that very few girls are willing to make the sacrifices necessary to carry on this unique tradition and it seems to be only a matter of time before geisha slip into historical lore like the the samurai. I spent hours each afternoon in Gion strolling up and down the narrow streets lined with "ochaya" (tea houses), hoping to catch a glimpse of the famously illusive geisha. After two days of shooting everything geisha except, well, a geisha, I was beginning to think that they were just a figment created by the Japanese Ministry of Culture and Tourism. Then, in the late afternoon of my last day in Kyoto, a chance encounter of a photographer's dreams. As a rounded a corner I saw them, two of them! I walked slowly behind them taking some environmental and detail shots as they shuffled down the street, careful not to disturb the harmony. Once they sensed my presence, stopped and turned towards me I thought my ideal photo shoot was over for sure. After all, I have no idea how geisha feel about being photographed and even I felt a bit uncomfortable, like some kind of geisha paparazzi. Realizing this was my only opportunity, I smiled, showed them my camera and non-verbally asked them for a quick shot. Surprisingly, they giggled at each other and almost seemed flattered by my eagerness. I worked quickly around them, instinctively finding the best possible light and background and then took two frames before giving them a deep bow and letting them once again slowly shuffle towards their destination. "Arigato goziamasu" (thank you very much) indeed!
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