Getting to the Cover of Geisha & Maiko of Kyoto
When I made the photograph of the maiko Yukako that became the cover of my book Geisha & Maiko of Kyoto: Beauty, Art, & Dance, I was just trying to make the best of a dark and drizzly day in early March in Gion Kobu. I didn't have many chances to work with Yukako back then, and I didn't want to squander an opportunity because of bad weather.
The photo above is the first I took with Yukako holding her red umbrella in front of her. It had started raining again, and I didn't want Yukako to get too wet. So, I had her stand just inside a covered alley, and I was standing out in the rain.
Although I like this first photo, it lacks impact. I am distracted by the brighter areas behind Yukako, and there doesn't seem to be a reason for her to be holding the umbrella where she's holding it besides the fact that I asked her to hold it there. I needed to get closer, and I did.
I got closer in the second photo in the series, but now I'm too close. We can't see the beautiful kanzashi (hair ornaments) Yukako is wearing, and the umbrella is cutting off the corner of her eye. I should have had her move it a little bit to the right so we could see her entire eye, but I didn't. I did solve the problem of the distracting elements in the background, though. I needed to take one step back.
I took one step back, and everything came together. Now we can see Yukako's kanzashi, but the background is still quite dark. Most importantly, I asked Yukako to move the umbrella so I could see both her eyes, but not her nose and mouth. This gave the photo a sense of mystery and focuses our attention on her big, brown eyes. Now I think the photo has impact.
The only trick was to make sure Yukako held the umbrella so the three spokes would frame her face well. If the spokes had been in front of her eyes, it would have ruined the photo. It took a few seconds to get the placement right, and I quickly made a few photos before Yukako moved.
I knew I had what I needed, and I moved on. It took about 5 - 10 minutes to make this series, and I shot 2 rolls of film (72 exposures).
Here is the cover image with the title and other text added. The only difference in the images is that some of the red umbrella has been cropped out. I like the composition of my original photo better, but the image needed to be altered to fit the cover. It wasn't an image I originally thought of for the cover, but I think it works.
As I said, I made this image with a film camera (a Nikon F100), not a DSLR, so I could not see how the images looked on the back of my camera. All the composition changes were made simply by looking through the viewfinder, not "chimping" at the camera's LCD. I still try to work this way, but it is nice to see the images just to make sure. If I had moved on and not gotten the shot, there was no going back another day.
This is a very good memory for me, and I thank you for letting me share it with you.