Maiko Mamehana with Sakko

The maiko Mamehana of Gion Kobu 12 days before she became a geisha
The maiko Mamehana of Gion Kobu 12 days before she became a geisha

This portrait of the maiko Mamehana with sakko (November 2010) was taken almost 2 years after the portrait of Makiko with sakko I posted last week, but the events of the day were much the same.

I photographed both Makiko and Mamehana dancing "Kurokami" first, since maiko and geisha only perform "Kurokami" in their last weeks as a maiko and their first weeks as a geiko.

I photographed the dance with strobes, and I wanted a different look and feel for the portraits. Only sunlight, diffusers, and reflectors were used. Although the portraits might look like the were taken indoors, they were actually taken outdoors, on the second-floor veranda of a teahouse. Those of you with my book Geisha &Maiko of Kyoto: Beauty, Art, & Dance can see the veranda in the photo of Kimina on page 50.

The veranda is quite narrow, so less than half of the gold byobu (folding screen) behind Mamehana actually fit behind her, which means I couldn't pan the camera very much to the left or right without losing the background.

After Mamehana sat down, I put a reflector on a stand in front of her. Then I took a reading with my Sekonic light meter. (I try not to rely on my camera's built-in reflective light meter, especially when a white-faced maiko or geiko is wearing a black kimono!)  Once I did this, there was no longer any room for me on the veranda, so I had to close the center screen door, open the right, and go out that way with my camera and tripod.

Once I sat down, there was literally no space left on the veranda. Neither Mamehana nor I could move. This became a slight problem because the light kept on changing, forcing me to meter the scene again. Fortunately, I had an assistant with me that day. There was no room for her on the veranda, but she could just barely reach out over the reflector and get a reading. I might have even asked Mamehana to take a reading for me herself.

I made many variations of this portrait, with Mamehana both looking at the camera and also looking away or down. As with the portraits of Makiko with sakko, there are many with Mamehana laughing. I realize now that many of these were just a way for the women to release the nervous energy and tension they were feeling during the sakko period, and I kept waiting and waiting until I saw something different through my lens.

When I sensed Mamehana had gotten all the laughter out, I asked her to look off to frame right (and towards the sunlight). She had finally relaxed, and I knew I had the portrait I wanted.