|Notes on ENA BUNRAKU||view bio|
Hiroshi Watanabe has traveled the world making portraits of people - actors, children, workers, psychiatric patients. But among his most compelling portrait series is one that focuses on a group of characters who are not, technically, people. The Bunraku puppets that Watanabe has photographed, however, have acquired a mythological status in the town of Kaware in Ena County, Japan, where they were created generations ago. And in Watanabe's remarkable photographs, they look astonishingly lifelike and powerful, almost totemlike. Watanabe has photographed each of his subjects, several of whom show signs of wear and tear, against a dark background, with a short depth of field that renders their faces in crisp focus and leaves everything else slightly blurred. The technique gives the puppets a sense of movement and the photographs a lush, rich quality.
Dating back to the 1600s, Bunraku was passed down from generation to generation, but there were times when interest in the tradition faded, and the puppets were stored away. Feeling sorry for the puppets' spirits, villagers revived the tradition around the turn of the century. Just as those villagers did, Watanabe has brought these puppets to life in his poignant photographs.