An exhibition of recent photographs from India by Kenro Izu will be on view at Howard Greenberg Gallery from October 26 – December 9, 2017. Eternal Light radiates the spiritually of India, its traditions, festivals, and rituals, in a series of portraits and landscapes from 2013 through 2015. The exhibition coincides with a new book by Kenro Izu, Eternal Light, to be published by the Steidl/HGG imprint, this fall.
Two holy cities, Varanasi and Allahabad, inspired New York-based Kenro Izu, who has traveled to India frequently since his first visit 20 years ago. With a name that means “city of light,” Varanasi is considered the spiritual capital of India, a destination for pilgrimages and, for Hindus, the final destination for those who wish to be cremated along the Ganges. Allahabad is the holy city where three rivers meet. The confluence point of the Ganges, the Yamuna, and the Saraswati rivers – called Triveni Sangam – is sacred, and bathing there is said to flush away all of one's sins.
Izu became immersed in Indian culture after receiving a rather unusual invitation in 1996. The artist was invited by a family in Varanasi to observe a cremation of a family member from beginning to end. The three-and-a-half hour ceremony took place by the Ganges. The body was covered in fabric and decorated with flowers and at the end nothing remained as the ashes were swept into the river. “It was an amazing experience. I was quite interested in the family’s attitudes. There was no weeping; only joking and laughing. It was so different from my culture,” notes Izu, who was born in Japan and moved to New York City in 1970. In Eternal Light, Izu captures individual experiences of joy and suffering related to death and the afterlife. The Ganges and Yamuna rivers provide the setting for many of the images in the exhibition, and the photographs seemingly transcend earthy concerns. Often a thick fog envelops his subjects as family members mourn a life and birds flock over the river. In the city of Vrindavan, he photographed among the thousands of temples dedicated to Krishna, and finds unexpected vistas in the turn of an alley where a grand gate can lead to a rundown home for the poor.
Highly attuned to the emotions of his subjects, Izu meets countless widows in Vrindavan, which is known for housing them, sometimes for free, as these women are forced out of their families because it’s felt in India that the widow is cursed for outliving her husband. Moved by the plight of children in an orphanage, he writes in his new book, “In their eyes I saw a brightness and sparkle that seemed to me to be the eternal light shining out.” He notices that another child in a white cloth “emanates a subtle light in twilight.” Izu concludes, “I have traveled numerous countries as if on a pilgrimage using my camera to find my Eternal Light. It’s as though the Hindu gods have suggested that I think about the question, ‘Where are people heading, in this life and after?’”
Kenro Izu (b. 1949) was born in Osaka, Japan. During his studies at Nippon University’s college of art, Izu visited New York in 1970 to study photography, and subsequently decided to stay and work. In 1979, Izu made his first trip to Egypt, which inspired him to begin his series Sacred Places, an exploration that is still in progress. He has traveled to Egypt, Syria, Jordan, England, Scotland, Mexico, France and Easter Island. More recently, he has focused on Buddhist and Hindu monuments in South East Asia: Cambodia, Burma, Indonesia, Vietnam and, most recently Bhutan and India. He has published several books of his work including: Sacred Places, Kenro Izu Still Life, and Passage to Angkor.
In 1995, while working on his series Light Over Ancient Angkor in Cambodia, Izu witnessed the death of child due to lack of medical care. That year he founded the not-for-profit organization Friends Without a Border, which built the Angkor Hospital for children in 1999 and the Lao Friends Hospital for Children in 2015. Friends Without a Border has held numerous photography auction fundraisers, among other events, in many cities around the world. As a result, Izu has inspired countless people by using the arts to achieve humanitarian goals.
Izu has been the recipient of the Catskill Center for Photography Fellowship in 1992, a NEA grant in 1984, the New York Foundation for Arts grant in 1985, a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2001, the Vision Award from the Center for Photography at Woodstock in 2005, and a Lucie Award in 2007. Work by Kenro Izu can be found in the permanent collections of The Metropolitan Museum, New York; J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco; and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston among others. Born in 1949, Kenro Izu lives and works in Rhinebeck, New York.