Building Rapport with a Maiko


Objectively speaking, this photograph of the maiko Manaha is not the best photo I took during Shigyoshiki this year because the background is too distracting.  However, the photo is my subjective favorite of the day because of what it represents to me: another small step in developing a good working relationship with a maiko I am photographing. Before Shigyoshiki, I only had one photo session with Manaha in 2011. To me, one photo session means that I have met the maiko, but I don't really know her yet.

Usually when I see a maiko I have photographed only once at an event like Hassaku, Koto Hajime, or Shigyoshiki, I just say hello and maybe make a few photographs. I don't accompany them as they make the rounds of ochaya; I don't feel that I've earned that right yet. So, I had no real plans to photograph Manaha during Shigyoshiki. That all changed when she burst out laughing when she saw me bundled up and crouched down in front of the Gion Kobu Kaburenjo as she made her way into the theater. She immediately stopped, called Mameharu over, and they both posed for me without my even asking. Since there were at least several hundred other photographers a few meters from us, I didn't expect this at all. Clearly, she was willing to let me photograph her.

I didn't see Manaha again until Shigyoshiki was almost over. I had already photographed Mameharu and Takahina when I bumped into Manaha and her onesan, a maiko I had never met before. I asked her if it was okay if I photographed her for a few minutes and she said that it was fine. I was walking near them when we reached the corner of Shijo and Hanamikoji, the busiest intersection in Gion, especially on a Saturday. I wasn't going to photograph her at all there because there were so many people around. It's just not a good spot for a portrait when it's so crowded.

However, before Manaha and her onesan made it to the corner, a Japanese photographer they clearly knew approached them and asked them to pose for him. In rare occasions when maiko know another photographer at one of these big events and he asks them to pose, I immediately back off and let that photographer do his thing. My biggest pet peeve is when photographers sneak up behind me when I'm photographing a geiko or maiko and try to steal a shot, so I make sure I do not do it to other photographers. Hopefully, it gets me a little good karma with the photo gods.

Manaha and her onesan stepped in front of the noren of a shop on Shijo so the photographer could get a tw0-shot of them, but the photographer told them he wanted to take their pictures one at a time. Manaha stepped aside so the photographer could photograph her onesan, and she made eye contact with me. I think I just raised an eyebrow or tilted my head, but Manaha got the message immediately and moved a few steps towards me. I crouched down so I wouldn't get all the people walking by in the frame, snapped off a few quick shots, and nodded my thanks. We never spoke, and I finished before the other photographer was ready for her. I don't think I've ever worked so smoothly with another maiko, especially one I hardly know.

A few minutes later, we were on a quiet street. There were only one or two other photographers around, so I asked Manaha if she could pose for me one more time. I knew the background from the Shijo portrait wasn't going to be ideal. She agreed, and I made a few frames. I suddenly felt pressure on my right arm as I was photographing her, but I had no idea what it could be. I glanced out of the corner of my eye, and some random Japanese photographer was literally trying to push me out of the way so he could get a better photo of Manaha as she was posing for me.

So much for good karma and the photo gods.

I wished Manaha a Happy New Year and told her I'd see her in a few weeks at our next photo session, which is the day after tomorrow.