I realized that I never made a geisha photodump yet... how odd. Fixing that now.
I love geisha and maiko. I've done 2 research projects on them for separate classes, including of course, reading and watching Memoirs of a Geisha (don't get me started on them. OH the inaccuracies of both the book and the movie) and I've read Mineko Iwasaki's autobiography that sets her record straight.
Before I get any further here, let's shoot down the popular myth: THEY ARE NOT PROSTITUTES. Got it? If anyone wants to say contrary, I will drop kick you instantly. Geisha are artists trained in everything from dance, conversation, music, flower arranging, etiquette, etc. They train longer in their craft than Olympic athletes and share the same lifelong devotion to their profession.
Side note: This picture was titled "Two Japans." Too right. Look at how they're looking at her! It's like time travel- present looking at past.
And I think they are the most beautiful, artful people. Their outfits coordinate with the seasons, as do their hair ornaments. It takes them hours to get dressed, including traditional rituals that are followed every time they leave their house. Every detail in their appearance has a meaning: for example, a maiko (geisha in training) changes hairstyles with important landmarks that she reaches through her training. It's said that maiko wear more elaborate kimonos, hairstyles, and ornaments because they are still in training and learning about their performances. A full-feldged geisha's beauty comes from her skills rather than her clothes and decorations, so she dresses in a much simpler fashion.
They are, above all, graceful. At least, that's what I always take away from photos.
Flickr is a goldmine for geisha paparazzi and probably the most accurate sources for authentic geisha pictures. Anyone can throw on a kimono and claim to be a geisha... posers, all of them. I snagged pictures from Onihide, Momoyama, and Milestone, all of whom have excellent galleries. I can scroll through their flickrs for hours.
The whole exotic mystery surrounding geisha is that you don't know what goes on behind closed doors (until Mineko Iwasaki told us, and I'm sure that wasn't everything). A geisha's time is very expensive and they only cater to a small margin of important people, none of which include Westerners (most of the time). You have to be super important to be invited to a tea house with geisha company. And super lucky.
You can dress a model up in the latest fashions, make her pose unnaturally, and it'll never be anything close to this kind of traditional beauty.