Documentary Photography

Oxford Anagama Kiln Project

The Oxford Anagama project is an Anglo-Japanese collaboration between potters and anthropologists to build and fire two traditional wood-fired Japanese kilns in woodland owned by the University of Oxford. Working 6-hour shifts, the two Japanese potters from Bizen, ceramic artists from Witchford Pottery, and a host of volunteers from around the world stoked the kiln 24/7 over 10 days. I documented the last night of the first firing of the Brick Kiln to capture the spirit of co-operation between people from different cultures.

On the last night, the kiln temperature failed to reach the required 1300 ˚C, which delayed completion. With different clay, woods and ways of loading, experienced professionals are needed. Especially, at this final stage, a team of proficient potters usually works around the clock to make subtle manipulations by listening to the sound of the burning wood, looking at the colour of the smoke and checking a small sample of pottery from the kiln to see if the desired finish has been achieved. However, in reality, there were only two Japanese Anagama experts, who spoke limited English.

Seeing the Japanese potters working without sleep, local potters often asked the Bizen artists to take a rest. However, the two professionals did not want to miss a single moment. At the same time, they found it hard to explain the situation and their thinking. In spite of such communication problems, their fellow potters made every effort to learn about Japanese ceramics and did not stop offering valuable assistance, such as chopping woods for the kiln, provide food and drink, washing dishes or just staying there to cheer them up.

Finally, the firing finished successfully, though leaving room for improvement, not only in the way of firing but also in communication. Although both sides experienced difficulties at this first firing, their joint endeavour was worthy of respect. It was the beginning of an ongoing project, which holds much potential for future international collaboration.


オックスフォード穴窯プロジェクトは、オックスフォード大学所有の森で、日本とイギリスの陶芸家や文化人類学者が協力して穴窯を築窯・焼成するプロジェクトだ。2名の備前焼作家、ウィッチフォードポタリーの陶芸家、世界中からのボランティアが参加し、6時間交代で10日間に渡り焚き続けた。私はこの煉瓦窯の初焚きで、多文化間の協同を撮影した。

最終夜、窯の温度が目標の1300度に上がらず、終わりが長引いた。日本とは異なる土、薪、窯の詰め方、穴窯焼成の経験豊富な専門家が必要なのは明らか。とりわけ最終段階では、経験豊富な陶芸家が窯を見守り続け、テストリングを取り出して確認したり、炎の音に耳を澄ましたり、煙の色に目を光らせたり、小さな調節をする。でもそこにいた穴窯の専門家は、英語が母語でない日本人陶芸家2人だけ。

2人が休みなく働くのを見て、地元の陶芸家は休憩を取るように促してくれる。でも、一瞬たりとも目を離したくはない。でも同時に、限られた英語力で、この状況や自分たちの思いをすべて伝えられない。言葉の壁にもかかわらず、地元の陶芸家は日本の技術を学ぼうと、必死だった。そして、薪割り、珈琲やご飯の準備、皿洗い、ただ居るだけで応援したり、精一杯のできることをした。

今回の焼成は改善の余地を残して、成功に終わった。焚き方だけではなく、コミュニケーションのあり方も含めて。様々な困難はあったが、このプロジェクトは尊敬に値する。このプロジェクトはこれからも続いていく。未来の「国際協力」の可能性を秘めて。

(c) 2014 Aya Watanabe