Critics’ Picks

Tomoko Yoneda, Beach—Location of the D-Day Normandy Landings, Sword Beach, France, 2002, color photograph. From the series “Scene,” 1998–.


Tomoko Yoneda

Hara Museum of Contemporary Art
4-7-25 Kitashinagawa Shinagawa-ku
September 12–November 30

This compact survey of Tomoko Yoneda’s career presents the photographer’s reminiscences on historical periods that have disappeared, to varying degrees, due to collective amnesia. Her ongoing series “Scene,” 1998–, consists of haunting conceptual evocations of the passage of history and faded memories of war and oppression, and yet these images remain terse, without evoking nostalgia. A color image of families relaxing on a sandy beach takes on an entirely different significance when one notices its title, Beach—Location of the D-Day Normandy Landings, Sword Beach, France, 2002.

“Between Visible and Invisible,” 1998–, is a series of large, square, black-and-white photographs of fictional constructs, depicting texts seen through the rounded eyeglasses of visionaries such as Gandhi, Trotsky, Freud, Le Corbusier, and Junichiro Tanizaki. They recall the grain and blur of Daido Moriyama and Nobuyoshi Araki’s photographs, and yet they are grounded in a calm and sensitive conceptualism. The relationship between the luminaries and the texts they observe is often poignant: In one work, Trotsky’s glasses look at a dictionary that was damaged in the first attempt on his life, while in another, Tanizaki’s glasses seem to be reading a letter to his third wife and muse, Matsuko.

Yoneda’s new work consists of smaller black-and-white pictures of familiar locations such as zoos, shrines, and hotels in Japan and China. The series's title, “The Parallel Lives of Others—Encounter with the Sorge Spy Ring,” 2008, reveals the hidden histories of these images. The locations of these works were clandestine rendezvous points for Richard Sorge, a Soviet spy sent to Japan during the 1930s. While the works in “Scene” clearly depict the present and rely on our imagination and memories to evoke a sense of distance across the inevitable passage of time, these new works, almost daguerreotype-like prints, aim for the same effect by toying with the format itself, as well as our assumptions about how history is documented.