The Deer of Hokkaido, the Incarnation of a Wonderful World

In the series ‘Shikawatari’, photographer Chieko Shiraishi observes a herd of deer from a distance, on a gentle, poetic walk.


WordsHenri Robert

© Chieko Shiraishi

The tragic events that occurred in 2011 were a source of trauma for many Japanese people. In order to regain one’s taste for life and be able to dream and imagine once more, a trigger is often necessary. For photographer Chieko Shiraishi, this trigger was her encounter with the snowy landscapes of Doto — in eastern Hokkaido — and the herd of sika deer that lives there. Suddenly, she felt like she was able to ‘finally breathe deeply’.

The experience and the emotion felt by the artist gave rise to the series Shikawatari (Deer Crossing) (2014-2020), which received the Special Photographer Award as part of the Higashikawa Prize in 2021.

Beyond the text that carries it, the singularity and power of Chieko Shiraishi’s work rest on her technique.  The artist, born in Yokosuka in 1968, trained in a photography studio run by Katsuhito Nakazato and Kazuo Kitai in Funabashi-shi, Chiba prefecture.


An invitation to stand together, in silence

Over the course of her visits to the area, the photographer followed a herd of deer that wander through a pale, snowy landscape, between frozen lakes and forests. As the text accompanying the exhibition of the series held at the Paris gallery Echo 119 notes, the photographs ‘almost look like they have been created  using graphite’, and the different elements of the setting appear to stand out from the background, giving a skewed perspective and sense of depth.

‘When I watched the herd, I observed a beautiful law of providence of nature, and I felt like I had witnessed something sacred that forms part of nature. The wild nature in Doto gives a sense of unity with the majestic natural world that I had never known before’, the artist explained in a book dedicated to the series (Sokyu-sha, 2020).

Although the photographer generally remains distanced from the mammals, a benevolent connection seems to be created in the form of an invitation to enter their world. Chieko Shiraishi’s work is poetic, shamanistic and mystical. Her photographs have the gift of making us be quiet.


Shikawatari (2020), a series of photographs by Chieko Shiraishi published by Sokyu-sha.

Shikawatari can be viewed at the Echo 119 gallery (Paris) until 15th January 2022. In parallel, the gallery is presenting another series by the photographer entitled Shimakage (Island Shadow), which takes the viewer to the little islands surrounding Japan and focuses on the theme of ‘the sensation of memories, as time passes, move away and become shrouded in mist’.

© Chieko Shiraishi

© Chieko Shiraishi

© Chieko Shiraishi

© Chieko Shiraishi