On 20th August, 2010, I interviewed the artist/photographer Yuki Onodera about her exhibition at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography. As she was in Paris, we spoke by telephone for a little under half an hour. I have preserved her heavily-accented and often ungrammatical English both because that's what we do here and because it has a certain charm.
CBL: Is that Ms. Onodera?
YO: Yes, yeh. I heard from Tokyo Metropolitan Museum. Thank you for calling.
CBL: Yes, I'm, uh, going to write about you for the Japan Times.
YO: Uhu, yes I'm very pl… We’re glad to appear in your journal. Thank you.
CBL: Yes, eh, anyway I found the exhibition, ah, ver… quite interesting.
YO: Uh, thank you.
CBL: And, uh, could I ask you, were you, were you, um, in Japan to help arrange the exhibition?
YO: Eh, sorry. I didn't understand. Why, why…
CBL: Did you come to Japan to organize the exhibition?
CBL: You did? Yeh? Now, you're based in Paris?
CBL: And you've lived there for how many years?
YO: Ah, yeh, how many years? I, eh, I moved in Paris in nineteen ninety, eh, three.
CBL: 1993? So, it's been a very, very long…
YO: Already, eh, one, 17 years.
CBL: Long time.
YO: Yeh, long time, but I always keep the show in Japan one times in the year or one times in the 2 years so from, from 17 years ago I continue the relationship also in [nejer?] and I activity in Europe.
CBL: Uh, can I ask you why did you decide to, to move to France. What’s the advantage for you?
YO: Yeh…and sorry my English is bad.
CBL: Oh no that's OK. Don’t worry about it.
YO: So, please, please corrected my [farb?] and my word is not good so the sense of…
CBL: Yes, don't worry. I always do.
YO: Yeh, yeh, because of I'm, uh…That's why I went to France because of I'm interested in Europe. Yeh. Because of I think Europe is many different countries, the culture, so I'm more interested in all the different culture in Europe and I think the Paris is like a "enflent en carrefours."
YO: It means like a corner. No, it’s not corner. What do you say?
CBL: It's like a crossroads?
YO: Many people in Europe pass Paris and we can contact many different countries person, yeh, so I chose Paris. Firstly Europe and secondly Paris.
CBL: So, Japan is NOT a crossroads?
YO: Yeh, Japan is, uh, qui, far from the, yeh, from the Europe, the Occidental culture. Yeh, we have a culture but I'd like to activity… For me… It's very important for me to life and work in another country that I born. So I would like to try to work and life the foreign country.
CBL: So, then, I'm wondering if you're trying to escape from Japanese society and Japanese rules.
YO: No, I don’t know. I don't think so because I'm born in Tokyo and I grow up in Japanese culture, so, uh, I think even if I try to something different in the culture I stay always my grow up culture. Sorry, you understand?
CBL: So, you keep your original culture?
YO: Yeh, yeh, so for me it's interesting the mix and see the viewpoint also. After I think after I live in Paris I think different because now I have a distance with my country and looking for with the distance looking my country, then but I’m not in the French people Even if I stay a long time in the France I think I never become French real French people – it's different – so I'm very interested in being foreigner, like I'm not maybe Ja…not too much Japanese but I’m not too much French, so for me it's interesting this situation.
CBL: So it means that by living in Paris…
YO: Like "étranger."
YO: Like "étranger."
CBL: Sorry, what's that word?
YO: "Etranger," it means foreigner.
CBL: Aha. I see.
YO: Etranger, français, yeh. I think it's important for the artist for be a étranger.
CBL: So, because you live in France you are not in the category of French and you are not in the category of Japanese.
CBL: And so you are escaping from the category.
CBL: Is that right?
YO: Yes, yeh, we can, we can explain it maybe, so my work also some little bit escape of the category usually. For example, my works, what we say, the genre... When we say the genre there is the category of photography and there is the category of art. My works always middle between two categories. So, I, I, that is, I think, my situation: maybe photography or art. Some my works, it's difficult to categorize, maybe. It's something floa… something suspend. The image are suspend, maybe in my category also. Suspend?
CBL: You mean suspended between. Yes.
CBL: Well, I think the fact about photography, first of all… Photography is, compared to painting and other artistic media… Photography is naturally very clear and, uh, scientific. Yeh?
CBL: So to make photography into an art you have to try to do something different.
CBL: And so basically photography is very good for cataloging and recording information, but your, eh, your photographs, they always try to strip away the context, and so who the person is, is not important, when is not important, eh, where is not so important. More important is just the artistic elements, like the composition or the shapes or the kind of poetic feeling of the light.
CBL: So, eh, in a way you're, uh… The fact that you live in Paris and you are outside your context is similar to your photography, which is trying to avoid the context of the photographs. Is that right?
YO: Yes, uh, yes. It's difficult for me to explain in English, sorry. Yeh, but I'm very interested in the what is photography, because now we are too much images and photography in our life so we life like air the images and photography, but for me the photography is very mysterious things because between… What you say the discovery photography we say, the nineteen…
CBL: The nineteen century?
YO: Yeh, yeh. Before the discovery photography… After is very different, qui? I think our experience is very different, so, but when I thinking about photography, uh, I always attach this point of view – what is the photography? If we have not the photo in our life, if we have never seen, eh, ourselves in the self-portrait, for example – no the portrait of ourselves – eh, our experience I think different. So I'm always… My interest is always in the photography, so that is why I try to something very difficult, not the standard photography. Sorry! Are you understand?
CBL: Well, I think you’re trying to create the feeling of wonder and mystery, and photography because it’s so clear, it usually lacks wonder and mystery.
CBL: So you have to lots of, um, things to make it mysterious again.
YO: Yes, thank you.
CBL: Yeh, so it's, uh, so it's a very artistic kind of photography?
YO: Yes, yeh, I see.
CBL: So it’s very personal. It's very ambiguous. It's very, y'know, em, it's not… Lots of things are not clear.
CBL: So we use imagination more.
YO: Sometimes people say maybe anti-photographic but I think it's not anti. It's also the interesting thing for photography, I thinK.
CBL: Now then, in the exhibition in Tokyo, I think they have about nine series.
CBL: And, um, I'd like to ask you about some of the series. Let's see, em, I guess the, um… "Below Orpheus," it's a very strange thing.
CBL: Um… Now, the the images were... You went to this hotel?
CBL: The room which was connected to a missing person case?
CBL: Can you tell me a little bit, why were you, why were you interested in this missing person case?
YO: Yeh. In this series, the more interesting thing for me, it's… There is the two place…
YO: There are two place.
CBL: Uhu, two places.
YO: Yeh, two places. And the two place, the relationship and two place are most far from this place.
YO: So in the other side of the world.
YO: So, after I found out the history and the legend, uh, after… So in this series, something in the fiction, also something ith the non-fiction, so non-fiction and… Sorry, something non- fiction and something is fiction. It’s mixed like roman.
YO: Yeh, so most, more interested for me, it’s a imaginated one place, the most far from here – the most below side of the world. That, that means in the down, uh, below from here.
CBL: Yes, so later, later you imagine the person went down and into the ground and you followed it to its limit, but why did you choose this room and this case of this person? Why was this person attractive to you?
YO: Mmhu, because of that I, ooh, I choosed history. No. The event and legend, it's maybe not relationship. It means that the relationship and for me something disappear and lost the people it’s explained… No. It's, it’s born as a story for me I think.
CBL: So this was a real case, wasn't it?
YO: Yes, that is a real case, but…
CBL: S-so, did you read about this in a newspaper, or, or, or was it on…
YO: Yeh. Yeh, I, I, I took, uh… I saw in the newspaper, but if I talk to…until the detail, because of some point is non-fiction and some point is fiction, but it is, it is real event that in the hotel and other side also a really legend also of 200, 300 years ago.
CBL: Uhu, well, Orpheus is maybe three thousand years ago.
YO: Yeh, yeh, two hundred eighty years.
CBL: Well, Orpheus the ancient Greek legend…
YO: Yeh, Orpheus is, I took this name because of [garbled] the history. I'd like to adjustment a little bit like, uh, how to say. Sorry, I can’t explain. The Greek is very large history. I’d like to this name for this…
CBL: But what kind of person was the missing person? Was it a man or a woman, young or old?
YO: Yeh, yeh, this is a man, but I, I don’t want to very clearly because of, I think, the people who look at the picture they imaginate something, so I did not many detail, real detail in there.
CBL: And you can’t tell me the details?
YO: Yes, because of like, for me, like novel. So when the novel is mixed fiction and non-fiction…
YO: So this, this is a little bit the same style.
CBL: Uhi, it's just like a newspaper cos sometime they also mix fiction and non-fiction.
CBL: OK, now your other series, "Portrait of Second-hand Clothes"…
YO: Oui, yeh.
CBL: Now these clothes all came from an exhibition. Is that right?
YO: OK? Sorry, OK exhibition?
CBL: The second-hand clothes, they came from another exhibition?
YO: Yes, yes. It means the clothez?
YO: I took out, I took out them from the other exhibition of the Christian Boltanski.
CBL: Umhu. What kind of exhibition was that? Was that about the Holocaust or something like that?
YO: Uh, I think not directly the Holocaust but Christian Boltanski use many clothez second-hand clothez for something, maybe something symbolic. When I visit his show in I think 1993, it's just like big volume of the clothez and people, visitors we can buy the bag, just plastic bag, and we can took out like want so I think sometimes yes, sometimes he symbolic like Holocaust but not always he.... I would like I wanted to each… Because he use always with a mass volume so I wanted to pick up one by one with like a person, a character and a history.
CBL: More individual?
CBL: Yeh. And can I ask you? The clothes are photographed against the window of your apartment in Paris at the time, yeh?
CBL: How did you stick them onto the window?
YO: So, there are two metal, metal, how do you say, metal stick inside, inside the clothez. So I just, uh, what say, just the installation on the, in the, on the metal stick.
CBL: So there's two metal poles inside?
CBL: One on each shoulder.
CBL: Uh, OK.
YO: It's not a superposition. It’s real, real clothes, clothez in the sky.
YO: Did you get my catalogue, English version?
CBL: Yes, I did. I've been reading it.
YO: OK. Thank you.
CBL: It's very helpful. Thank you for arranging that. Em, now, also, I guess I should ask you a little bit about the, em, quite a recent series… Um, I'm just searching the catalogue now. Um… "Angular Eclipse"…
YO: The silk screen print.
YO: I realized in Shanghai, in China.
CBL: This is very similar to "Transvests."
YO: Uhu, yes.
CBL: Is it the same technique to create the image?
YO: Yes this is same technique and I made this series for silk screen print but very large format.
YO: I made it from start for silk screen print, not for photography, so I manipulated all the color, I imaginate silk screen, technique of silk screen print. So finish is very different. That is almost collaboration with the printer because I think 20 times of the passage of the [unclear] and they are very technically difficult.
CBL: Well, can I just ask you about the basic image? For example, in one of the works there's a bear and a girl. How did you create the image of the bear?
YO: It's the same technique of "Transvest." "Transvest" is not real person but I took like silhouette. I use the, the, the photo already exist and I cut out the silhouette, then I made a small stage and I lighting with a back light so the identification it disappear. For the bear also the same. I use the photo already exist I cut out, and I made one stage and took the picture. The technique is same, exactly the same.
CBL: Yeh, but some people might disbelieve that because the cutting is very detailed. For example, y'know, in the picture with the chicken, eh, the feathers are… It's very detailed. So that's all been hand-cut from a magazine. Is that right?
YO: Yeh, handcut or the picture that I took myself, so many different image – my pictures or cut out in the magazine or, or in the book, and I made…
CBL: So you create a silhouette and then you create a small stage…
CBL: …and then you photograph it again?
YO: Yes. And I not create silhouette because silhouette is already exist.
CBL: Yes, but you cut it out very, very carefully.
YO: Yeh, yes. I just use… Yes. Like recycle. Yes.
CBL: So, you're using a knife to cut?
YO: Yeh, I, I use scissor. No, scissor.
YO: Yeh, so I mix many technique different technique like computer and also I use very old technique like photo-collage Something very complex. For me, its important the technique mixed for get the profounder, something not flat, to get the…
YO: Yeh, more deeper. Yeh.
CBL: But a key stage in each of these works and in "Transvest" is you, you actually have a, a silhouette which you have cut out or created and you put that onto a small stage and then you photograph it?
CBL: OK, because I have to describe very clearly sometimes.
YO: "Transvest" I printed myself and all other print also. Even the two-meter large format I printing myself. But only this silk screen print and other pink image of the still life is it’s not me that print it. But always myself until finish.
YO: Yeh. I think it's very… There is no artist photographer who printing oneself until very large format. I think in Paris only me that continues printing myself.
CBL: So, it's very important to create a final artifact that has some kind of appeal, yes?
CBL: So, this is connected, I guess in a way, to the rise of digital photography. It’s very easy to manipulate images now. Almost anybody can make strange or exotic images, so the final print becomes more important in a way.
YO: Uhu, yes, yeh, in digital the machine who, who printing. Very different. I try to… Of course, now it’s difficult. I don’t know which I can continue until the authentic print because now almost people to turn for the digital, but I continue to try to, uh, always gelatin silver print.
CBL: Umhu. It's a similar problem that newspapers have as well.
YO: Ah yeh [garbled] something digital. I like something exists not in data because for me images is nothing exists. Images is images, so not exist. But photo is exists like material so I like paper, so I like newspaper, and I like books, but I think the images digital different to exist.
CBL: So you don’t like… The data by itself is nothing?
YO: Yeh. I think something with the internet because we have many interests, new things…
[the line cut off suddenly because my telephone card ran out]