Yoneda Tomoko

b. 1965. Lives and works in London. Yoneda’s photographs address everyday places and subjects both in terms of their contemporary reality and the dramatic memories and history associated with their locations. She has increasingly addressed Asia, particularly places involved in the course of Japan’s modernization and its unresolved consequences. Yoneda has received critical acclaim at numerous international exhibitions including the Tokyo Metro-politan Museum of Photography (2013), Platform Seoul 2009 and Venice Biennale (2007).

From the series Cumulus. Hiroshima Peace Day, 2011
Photographed on 6th August 2011 (The day the atomic bomb was dropped), Chromogenic print, 65×83 cm
Courtesy the artist and ShugoArts
March 11, 2011, the Eastern Japan Earthquake was the largest natural disaster ever recorded in Japan. In the aftermath of an unprecedented tsunami and a series of aftershocks that followed the Eastern Japan Earthquake were an uncountable number of victims and a nation that was once again horrified by the unseen atom and the unfolding of disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. It became a daily horror that still haunts all of us. We frail humans were witness to a horror that could not have been foreseen even with all of our knowledge and imagination, and to the existence of a phenomenon so immense that individuals were powerless to resist it.
Through this tragedy we also saw anew the local community and the nation to which we belong and in which we take part as individuals; our eyes opened and we questioned our submission to unseen authority as we recognized the emergence of this new challenge. Since the Meiji Restoration, Japan has striven through democratization to take its place among the most powerful nations of the world and in the past has approved of numerous wars fought across the world. Now, during my stay here in Tokyo, I have tried to examine the meaning of these things. Ultimately, in my mind, these events call into question the very meaning of human existence, and force me to seek answers to my doubts. Is there objective evidence that shows human existence to be driven by desire? Is there some polymeric biomaterial inherited form our ancestors that form the mechanisms that induce it? Everything has been invisible. [Yoneda Tomoko]
From the series The Parallel Lives of Others?Encountering with Sorge Spy Ring. Modern Hotel, Harbin (Clausen & Benedict), 2008
Gelatin silver print, 9.5×9.5 cm, Courtesy the artist and ShugoArts
요네다 토모코2
Private collection
In October 1941, immediately prior to the outbreak of the Pacific War, a spy ring led by Richard Sorge, code-named Ramsay, was apprehended by the police. Japan remained in a state of almost perpetual war from the end of the nineteenth century and, as a result, the government tended towards totalitarianism. People with a humanitarian outlook or those who witnessed or suffered from prejudice against the weak may have felt a need to devote themselves to social revolution or believed that communism presented the only answer. I became interested in the Sorge affair that unfolded against this historical background. The kind of double lives these spies were forced to lead for the sake of their ideology meant that their history was quite different from that of their family or friends. A parallel life was their true essence, their truth.
Sorge and Ozaki knew each other when they both lived in China and were reunited in Japan after a meeting in Nara Park. Another member of their group, an artist named Yotoku Miyagi, held secret rendezvous as he painted in the Koishikawa Botanical Gardens. Money and secret documents changed hands at such places as the Tokyo Takarazuka Theater; secret assignations were carried out in the most mundane of places.
These images would appear to have succeeded in capturing the fleeting memories of these spies, or the moment of uncertainty at their first secret rendezvous. I have used an old camera and taken the photographs rapidly, so I cannot be certain about the image until the end. A natural spontaneity exists in the process of creating these works. [Yoneda Tomoko]