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The big picture: a brilliant spark amid the darkness

Rinko Kawauchi captures the hypnotic magic of fireworks and how a single point of collective wonder can unite us

Rinko Kawauchi began taking pictures of fireworks when she was living alone in Tokyo in 1997. At the time, she was spending her days working out what kind of photographer she wanted to be, a process she recalls as “agonising trial and repetition”. Often in the evenings she would find firework displays, which, she says, provided her “with a sort of healing… Alongside people of all ages, I would look up at the sky and marvel at the beautiful sparks. In an instant they would vanish – and so would we return to our own daily lives. In a chaotic world, such moments felt like salvation: an affirmation of being alive.”

Her images from that time are included in a group exhibition devoted to the broad theme of fire, involving finalists for this year’s Prix Pictet at the V&A. Many of the pictures in the show focus on awful incendiary power: the inferno and aftermath of forest fires that are an ever more common feature of the warming planet and the charred devastation that fire can bring to environments and to communities. Kawauchi’s photographs provide little epiphanies of human joy in that context.

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