Our senses can take us back to memories in a strange instant, a quick whiff of lotion on a passerby that transports you to childhood summer holidays, or a taste of broth that reminds you of grandma’s cooking. For Japanese photographer Minako Yoshida, her trip to Iceland brought parts of her past to the forefront of her mind when she saw the churches standing tall in the bleak landscape.
“The best thing is I can face my past through photography. The worst thing is also that I have to face my past through photography” — Minako Yoshida
Never Stop Being a Photographer
Where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in the city of Kobe, Hyogo prefecture, and lived there until the age of 18. When I was a kid, I didn’t like to stay quiet at home, I liked to go to new places instead. I was a very curious girl and I think I am not so changed even now. Now, I’m based in Nara and live here for 10 years, but I would love to live somewhere else, outside of Japan one day.
Tell us about what you do and the type of art you make.
I am a photographer. At the moment, I’m focusing on taking photos of landscapes, with a concept based on my memories and personal emotion.
How did you become a photographer?
I’ve enjoyed taking photos since I was in high school. After graduating from high school, I decided to attend a vocational school which was specialized in photography. In 2002, I was awarded by Marc Riboud (1923-2016) a French photographer, who was a judge at Canon’s New Cosmos of Photography. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to meet him in person, but I received a letter from him. In the letter, it said “if you have decided to be a photographer, never stop being a photographer.” I think this message cheers me up still today.
What does your work aim to say?
My first photography work was taking photos of my mother, who was taking care of my father fighting cancer. I was only a teenager and couldn’t face the fact that my dad was dying. However I didn’t want to forget my dad trying to live his life, and my mom being always close to him. At that time, the only thing I could do was “not to forget the moment” by taking photos of them. And by making the photographs as works of art, I wanted to show my dad and mom that “I was with you” and “I will not forget.” I still keep these messages with me, and I want to create photography works with intention as if I am writing letters to someone.
What projects have you worked on?
It’s been 15 years since my dad passed away, but I still regret that I couldn’t face my dad. There is a reason for this. I was always scared of my dad when he was at home. He was always irritated by something, and used to shout at us unreasonably. My mom tried to keep the kids away from him and we also avoided him. However, I have only one good memory of him. When I was a kid, I used to go to church with my dad. My dad was not a Christian, but somehow he took only me in the family to church every Sunday. I had never asked him why. After the death of my dad, this experience influenced me to visit churches whenever I travel abroad.
In 2014, I visited Iceland, and when I saw a church standing alone in the immerse nature, its scenery overlapped with an image of my dad. When I returned from Iceland, I contacted a researcher to ask why the churches in Iceland are built in nature, while most of the other churches I’ve seen abroad were built in the places where people live. According to the researcher, in Iceland, the houses are much more scattered, and so even though the churches look like they’re standing alone, they actually exist at the center of a community. When I found this out, I felt clearly that the churches in Iceland represent the image of my dad.
Since I couldn’t face my dad for many years, I believed that he was isolated from his family. However after visiting churches in Iceland, I realized that my dad was actually positioned as the heart of the family. After a while, I revisited Iceland to photograph the churches, and after taking photos of many of them, I finally had an opportunity to face my dad properly.
That’s why, taking photographs of churches is one of projects that I would like to continue.
What’s the best and worst thing about your job?
The best thing is I can face my past through photography. The worst thing is also that I have to face my past through photography.
Who or what inspires you?
I was always inspired by music. The reason why I wanted to travel Iceland was because I like an Icelandic band, Sigur Rós. When I listen to it, I can visualize the scenery. I was attracted by their music and by traveling the country, I felt that their music is exactly like the Icelandic landscape. It is very beautiful and fleeting, but at the same time, it is sad.
What’s your home decor style like?
I live in a Japanese style house which was built 50 years ago. It is old but very beautiful. In the living room, there are art works that I’ve been collecting. I want to live simply and have fewer objects, but I don’t think I can do it.
What does home mean to you?
‘What does home mean to me?’ is a very difficult question for me. I think it is also the theme for my photography works. Maybe it is also my goal to be able to answer this question.
What item would you be lost without?
My beloved ones. My mother, husband, and best friends.
This black and white series are part of the collection Where We Are Heading For, which tackled the subject of Yoshida’s father and his journey with cancer with her mother taking care of him. As with her recent photography collection, the pictures work as a letter addressed to her father, seeking closeness where there is also a tangible sense of distance.
Since winning the Fuji Photo Salon’s “The New Face Prize” in 2005, Yoshida’s photographs have been featured in different exhibitions around Japan, as well as at the Asia Contemporary Art Show in Hong Kong, represented by Gallery Out of Place.
*This interview has been edited for clarity and length.