Interview with Yoshihiko Ueda

Yoshihiko Ueda was born in Hyogo (Japan) in 1957. Even though he’s a well-known advertising photographer in his country, he also has an original and vast personal work. He has published 28 collections of photographs and has received many awards including the Tokyo Art Directors Club Grand Prix, the New York Art Directors Club Photography Award and the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival Silver Prize for Graphic Design.


Picture from his advertising works in 1992

Your portfolio is rich and varied. We can find celebrities’ portraits, intimate family pictures and advertising photographs. How do you combine advertising photography with your personal projects? Are you focusing more on one of those at the moment?

It probably sounds a bit strange, but with respect to my personal projects, I feel that for me it’s all part of the single thread of my photographic practice. My focus these days is on photographs in the Materia series of my personal works. These images began from my photographing of forests, then moved on to rivers, and the sea, steadily changing form along the way.

You have mentioned that your photography was very influenced by Robert Mapplethorpe’s work. Could you tell us how was the experience of portraying him?

That’s such an old story now. I think it was when I was in my mid-20s. In those days many photographers were affected by the influence of Robert Mapplethorpe in one way or another. That’s how tremendously influential he was as a photographer. But now I’m already in my mid-50s, and if I have to say whether that influence is in my photography now, the answer would be no. I believe it was 27 years ago that I took his portrait. I was overjoyed. And it still seems like yesterday that he was standing there quietly in front of my camera, his limpid eyes looking directly into the lens.

robert mapplethorpe

Portrait of Robert Mapplethorpe, 1986.

In your photographic work we can find two projects located in forests: Quinault and Materia. «I do believe I photographed the forest as a ‘force’, something completely different than merely shooting scenery». These words of you explaining how you felt when portraying the forest in Quinault, could be also useful to explain the way you felt for your project Materia?

I intend to carry on with my Materia project, which began with Quinault when I photographed the forest as a living thing, and continuing for more than 20 years. The word comes from Latin and refers to the energy from which life is born. Starting with forests, it has moved on to rivers and sea this year. But it hasn’t changed in the fundamental way that it is still seeking to discover and express in photography the original life force.


Picture from Quinault

After reading your statements on Amagatsu or Quinault, I have the sensation that many of your projects came to you led by some kind of inexplicable force, just as if you were destined to make them. Few photographers get that spiritual connection with their projects’ subjects. Could you tell us in what sense those feelings influence you when taking photographs?

Generally speaking I feel that it’s joy. And that joy arises from being able to stand before the world and open one’s heart and mind to the feelings of fear and happiness that people are exposed to when they come into contact with the unchanging, unbroken flow of that origin in physical form, that sublimity and beauty that words cannot express.


Picture from Materia

You’ve made few solo exhibitions in Europe and America, only two or three, is it right? Why do you think your work is not so known outside Japan? 

Yes, you’re right.

I don’t really know the reason my works aren’t so well known overseas. Perhaps one thing is that I haven’t got any partner strongly promoting my photographs around the world. And I haven’t been devoting my own energy to positive action to have my works seen overseas.

What do you think about Asian current photography?

I don’t actually look at other photographers’ work that much, so I don’t know much about contemporary photography in Asia.

Could you please tell us something about your next project?

As I said before, I’m continuing to take photographs for the Materia series. And I’m progressing with preparations for M.River and M.Sea to be exhibited in Tokyo this spring.

ShimaePicture from Shimae

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