Beneath the mask | Gion Geishas

A Geiko Trio by Vic Briggs

“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” – Oscar Wilde

We are all mask-wearers. Anonymity allows us to reveal parts of ourselves that would otherwise remain occluded. It offers a degree of freedom that the pressure of maintaining a certain image in our everyday life does not. Our masks hide our true face whilst simultaneously allowing for another truth to emerge, a deeper and perhaps more dangerous one.

In hiding the features of our true identity, the mask becomes a second skin. The wearer undergoes a psychic change; one could almost say that the mask establishes a new being of its own: the self transformed. Both hiding and revealing personalities and moods, from long forgotten times and to this day, the mask remains the ultimate disguise.

Whether it is the anonymity provided by an online presence or perhaps the process of applying makeup to one’s face before stepping out into the world, whether it is the manner in which we dress or the mode of speech that we adopt and adapt as circumstances change… we all have a mask at hand and oftentimes it becomes difficult to distinguish between mask and wearer. Who owns whom?


About the above image: I had several ideas for today’s theme, but the idea of a disguise works rather well with the secretive nature of traditional Japanese entertainers, whose clientele will never see their “real” appearance or know their birth-given name (the women are given a geiko name when they complete their training and are admitted as full members into the sisterhood). They exist – in the public sphere at least – only when in disguise.

Taken on a sunlit winter day in Kyoto, this image captures three geiko (or geisha) who have ventured out of doors. I observed them as they retired to a secluded courtyard in Gion and took turns in front of the camera. Although I can only make a guess as to the reason for this outing, I like to imagine that they had only recently advanced from the position of maiko to that of a geiko and were perhaps impatient to capture it on film in order to share the event with their families and friends.

Daily Prompt: Brilliant Disguise

Geiko 芸子 Geisha

Geisha by Vic Briggs

The image of a Geiko on a sunlit February afternoon in Kyoto, Japan during a photo shoot.

Geiko is the Kyoto dialect for geisha, and although there are geisha in several cities across Japan, the country’s former capital maintains its place of prominence amongst those who wish to experience the entertaining powers of a traditional Japanese hostess. Versed in the art of conversation, dance and music the geisha is the embodiment of 17th century charm and manners in a country with an otherwise futuristic edge.

I was lucky to capture this image, stolen from under the nose of a professional photographer who was busy rearranging their equipment while the young woman tempered the unusually bright winter light with her parasol. Luckier still since the geisha are  both fond of their privacy and rather camera shy. They will flee from the curious gaze of onlookers quicker than it takes to say “flash” so that all the intruders are left to glimpse is the back of a kimono disappearing around the twist of an alley. Or so I am told.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Perspective