“Kyoto is often thought of as one of the oldest cities in the world, and time hasn’t changed much over there when compared to other places,” says Coco Capitán of her new photo series, Ookini, that she shot in the city. “I wanted to see how the young people of Kyoto live their daily lives with this notion, to see how the many old traditions and ceremonies fit within a generation whose life goals and routines may completely differ from those long ago.”
Born in Seville and now based in London, Coco ended up briefly relocating to Japan to take on this latest project, which saw her engage with some of Kyoto’s teenagers in a search for answers about their lifestyle and world views. From young monks and maikos (apprentice geishas) to skater kids and school children, she photographed a cross section of the city’s youth to build up an honest portrait of their lives.
For Coco, these formative years have always drawn her attention. “I’m very interested in teenage years and the passage between being a child and becoming an adult,” she notes. “I think teenagers in different cultures experience different difficulties. In Japan, something we hear a lot is that there are really high suicide rates and that there are really strong family expectations. So, I was just interested to see, what are the daily lives of these teenagers like? How do they feel?”
Using simple but evocative portraiture, Coco captured her subjects in their natural environments. The classroom, the park, the city streets and other quotidian settings form the backdrop for photographs that subtly hint at the thoughts, feelings and passions of the teenagers. Holding their instruments, jumping on their skateboards and posing in their respective uniforms; each subject allows the viewer into their world for a brief moment.
Compositionally, the images are straightforward and neutral, and Coco says this simplicity was key to allowing the audience to compare and contrast each group or individual. “I think the series more or less follows only one rule, which is having someone in the middle of the frame,” she explains. “So you can look at the monk, you can look at the maiko, you can look at the skater kid, and you can see how they are all teenagers of similar age, but their context is so different within the same city.”
Of the many photographs in Ookini, Coco singles out a shot of two girls playing by the river as one her favourites from the series. Their candidness, she tells us, embodies one of the most crucial qualities of adolescence: optimism. “The girls in the picture were unaware of me and my camera and they seemed completely absorbed by their games and fantasy worlds… [This image] evokes in me a feeling the Japanese call ‘seishun’, or ‘spring’ in English. It refers to the ‘springtime of life’ and those years in which everything is new and full of vitality, and the potential that remains present in many aspects of life.”
Coco Capitán: Ookini (Copyright © Coco Capitán, 2023)
About the Author
Daniel joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in February 2019 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. He graduated from Kingston University with a degree in Journalism in 2015. He is also co-founder and editor of SWIM, an annual art and photography publication.