Mass photographer of magnum opus 1000Children returns with an even more audacious new release, Wild Children. The photo book visibly illustrates the phrase “the apple of my eye” to exhaustive iterations. It’s strange, considering the innate and inevitable reality of the crying child, that this release, distinctively, pulls back the veil on a sight only marginally presented before in visual media. The images, truly, are startling at first sight; to witness the raw emotion felt most strongly within children unlearned in social etiquette, unburdened by the stifling weight of adulthood. Osamu Yokonami discusses with METAL his work, the world, and plans for the future. The photographer recently showcased these images, and a selection of others, in an exhibition at the auspiciously titled Book and Sons in Tokyo that closed March 1st.
Hey Osamu, how has your year been so far?
During coronavirus, I had enough time to challenge myself with new things. I got an amateur radio operator license to fly drones for video and photography. However, learning to fly a drone is challenging.
In your last interview with METAL, you declared your love for “unusual [and] strange pictures […] because they provoke unexpected feelings.” What unexpected feelings did this new collection of images evoke in you?
I had to wait some time for the children to stop crying in the 1000Children and Primal series. I basically took pictures of them after they stopped crying. But some mothers wanted to take pictures of them crying. I really found out about the incredible energy; wild, and menacing faces at this time. I started this project as only crying faces. Almost all of the children cry when their mothers leave them.
Preeminent in the pantheon of photography maxims is the recommendation that one should never work with children or animals, speaking now to an expert on the matter I wonder if you have formed any opinions contrary to this?
I have never thought so, or heard so. I believe that everything is worthy of photography, and children and animals represent a more primal state of being. I like to capture unexpected moments, without the subject’s self-control.
Do you see any of your younger self in the Wild Children?
I have a faint recollection of it. I cried like it was the end of the world when I woke up after a nap as I lost sight of my mum.
Over the past few years, I have noticed that toddlers are given tablets and iPhones quite often to appease their tantrums. I’m pretty certain I’d do the same, but does Wild Children show us the importance of letting our kids learn to express themselves, bawling and all?
I think it depends on the situation. But I believe that children usually cry because they don’t know how to express themselves, so it comes out as frustration. I’m a parent myself. So, I understand the want to appease tantrums, but I don’t think tablets and iPhones are the solution. If anything, they sap our ability to express ourselves.
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This might reflect poorly on my interviewing competency, but the first question that came to mind when viewing these arresting images was: why apples? Did you ever consider using an onion to reflect the situation?
In my opinion, the apples’ colours would be kind to the children’s faces. I never thought of using an onion.
What are your opinions on schools that scrap uniform? Do you think the clothes an individual chooses to wear are intrinsic to their personality or are you saying something different with these works?
I think uniform is okay in childhood because it stops children comparing their own clothes to the others children’s clothes.
Considering your Assembly series, do you feel like our forced isolation has merely exemplified society’s need for togetherness and strength in the collective?
Exactly. According to my assembly, the strength and beauty as a collective entity stood out more by being in nature. I think we should collaborate on this situation and work hand in hand to get over this world crisis.
Do you still have your first camera that your father bought for you?
Unfortunately not. When I was in my twenties, I exchanged my Canon AE-1P with my photography mentor’s Canon A-1. That is my biggest regret. Because my AE-1P had a lot of sentimental value. A few years ago, I bought the same second-hand camera.
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Did attending a documentary-oriented photography school have any lasting effect on what you wish to achieve with your photography?
My photography style is certainly influenced by my school, especially after I learned that what I see is not everything. I have to see what is hidden. Documentary-oriented photography has led me to my current style. I’ve learned lots of things from street snaps, from continuously taking pictures of the same theme, until I can see everything, and everyone.
Outside of your work on larger personal projects, or commercial ventures, do you ever go out and shoot for sheer leisure in your free time?
I carry a camera most of the time and I’m usually ready to take a picture. But most of my photography falls into those two groups.
Who inspired creativity in your formative years, and who inspires you now?
I find it very difficult to choose one or two people. So many photographers, and looking at their work, inspired me; Daidō Moriyama, Araki, Erwin Wurm, Charles Fréger, Mark Borthwick, Justine Kurkland…
Your website is really impressive; images develop and transform as you move around the space. Do you work in close collaboration with a designer online?
Yes. My website was created by a web designer called IGC Ueshima. He recommended some good ideas. He made it not too complex, easy to navigate, and stylish, I think. We communicated closely while we built the site. It’s taken 10 months because I took so long sending the images. My website was the same for ten years, even while my photograph style evolved. I’m very happy with the site new. Thank you.
What’s on your plate for 2022?
I am hoping to publish After Children, which is a series of photographs of 1000 children over time. I have already taken pictures of some of them after 8 years. The 1000 children I photographed are now around 13-16 years old. I have taken pictures of 167 people so far. I’d like to take pictures of everyone, but it’s difficult to contact them, most families have moved or changed contact information.
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