Lukasz Rusznica was invited to Japan as part of the European Eyes on Japan initiative. He had to document one prefecture, the Kagawa province. Before he journeyed there, he feasted himself on Japanese aesthetics, becoming fixated on the images of the Yōkai, a class of supernatural monsters, spirits and demons in Japanese folklore.
These demons are thought to come out at dusk, which is why many of his photographs are shot on the cusp of darkness. In them, we see how a bright flash can create a strange, ethereal glow, giving us images in which bodies twist and mouths lie gaping.
The rationale behind printing several photographs on red paper, Lukasz explains, is to “move the portrait into the space of abstraction”. Like the supernatural, it becomes foreboding, a strange mixture of the real and unreal. Stylised imagery permeates the book: colours are inverted and accentuated, water splashes and trees bend as if they were being touched by unseen creatures.
In many belief systems, there are underground rivers which separate material reality from the spiritual realm. Subterranean River explores the border between the knowing and the unknowing. Like your subconscious or your circulatory system, this river “exists regardless of whether it has an observer”, the photographer explains. For Lukasz, the Yōkai represent that space. They can exist between these two realms — the human world and the space beyond.
Lukasz became fascinated by the Kami, which are the spirits worshipped by the Shinto religion. They are entities almost impossible to express in the English language. The Kami are manifestations of musabi, the interconnecting energy of the universe; they can be elements of the landscapes, forces of nature itself, and sometimes they’re even said to exist within human beings.
What Lukasz found most fascinating about these spirits was the idea that they existed within the natural world, showing that “the world does not really need us, we are only an element, not the creator. For me, a man is important but only as much as a stone and tree, which also have their personality, emanation and intensity in my pictures”.
Perhaps the Yōkai can help us, mere mortals, understand and articulate the things that lie beyond the ordinary.
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