Tomio Koyama Gallery is pleased to present “Māter,” an exhibition of works by Yoshihiko Ueda. The exhibition marks the artist’s second solo presentation with the gallery since his 2017-2018 exhibition “Apple Tree,” and features his latest works.
【About Yoshihiko Ueda and His Works
ーA gentle, yet powerfully penetrating gaze unbound by established notions and preconceptions that expresses appreciation for “life”】
Receiving high acclaim both within Japan and overseas, Yoshihiko Ueda has continued to present work on the frontline throughout his career of 40 years. His oeuvre profoundly reflects his consistent perspective, thoughts, and personality as a photographer.
Portraits, forests, family, rivers, buildings, human remains from the Jomon period, portraits of “paper,” apple trees…
Expressing a desire to “discover how the world came to be” and to “affirm the transience that permeates the impermanence within which we live,” Ueda’s photographs are a manifestation of many years of meticulously developing his concepts and exploring various motifs.
The manner by which he transcends established notions and preconceptions to capture the intrinsic existence of “life,” as well as the vivid presence of his subjects, and the overlapping layers of time, brings about an air of multifacetedness to his work in ways reminiscent of the matière of a painting.
Such expression is indeed made possible through Ueda’s gentle, yet powerfully penetrating gaze that respects and appreciates “life.”
Also releasing his first film A Garden of the Camellias in 2021, which he wrote, directed and filmed, and currently channeling his efforts towards the training and education of the younger generation as a Professor of the Department of Graphic Design at Tama Art University, Ueda’s various activities seem to reflect his challenge to expand his scope and possibilities of expression as much as possible.
【About the Exhibition and the New Works
ーMāter “Mother, Source”
Treating nature, people, and all things as equal, expressing their fundamental life existence in his work】
“Māter,” which serves as both the title of the exhibition and the works featured, is a Latin term that means “mother/source.”
In the works, a waterfall, valley, and a woman’s body are photographed under the light of the moon at night, and presented in pairs.
Here, water, human body, mother, earth, moon, as forces that have continued to generate life since ancient times, reflect the fact that nature and the female body are equal and closely connected. The faint reflection of the water and the smoothness of the skin of the woman’s body share a curious commonality that enables one to sense the luster, presence, and even the breath of nature.
Ueda’s distinct and profound gaze that treats nature, people, and all things as equal, and expresses their fundamental life existence in his work, inform viewers of a certain truth. That is, while we generally understand “water,” “waterfall” and “human body” symbolically as being different things, in fact they are all connected as life on earth, and are woven together like one large tapestry.
This work is an extension of his previous endeavors in exploring the origins of life that begins with “Quinault” –shot in the 1990s in a sacred Native American Indian forest, followed by his 2011 series “Materia” consisting of photographs of the native forests of Yakushima, and “Apple Tree” shot in 2017.
Ueda regards the earth, a planet that miraculously possesses the power to create life, as one large living organism, and thus perceives “water and rocks” to be fragments of it, as well as women who too have the ability to give birth to life. Photographing under the “moonlight” that illuminates only the writhing of life amidst the dark of the night while letting all else sink into the darkness, was in itself a journey of sorts to infer the origin of life that is shrouded in mystery.
Ueda states that perhaps what had initiated him to create this series was seeing a photograph taken from the Apollo spacecraft when he was in his first year in junior high school, and feeling how “the sight of the beautiful blue earth floating in the darkness of space was in itself a miraculous life form.”
【The Significance of “Words” in Ueda’s Work
ーCapturing the truth that is hidden within things through the etymology of words】
For Ueda, words and inspiration from their etymology have served as important elements in his expression.
“I wandered through the forest carrying a large camera upon my shoulder, and named the photographs that gradually came to manifest as “Materia” so as not to lose sight of them. The moment I encountered this Latin word that refers to a trunk of a tree and also means life generating energy, the contours of my photographs, which had appeared obscured until then as if in a haze, had clearly revealed themselves.”
（Yoshihiko Ueda, Materia, Kyuryudo Art Publishing Co., Ltd. 2012）
The words “Materia” (tree trunk) and “Water” themselves are also derived from “Māter” (mother, source), reflecting how people in ancient times had already discovered the principle of this ceaselessly connected world, and had preserved it through words to pass down to future generations.
In our present times, when the background entrusted in such terminology has long been forgotten, Ueda’s work once again reveals to us the origins of that distant world.
“I feel that the word ‘mundane’ is what complicates things in the first place. My belief is that we live in the midst of “impermanence” that is neither mundane nor out of the ordinary. We are living in moments of change and transience that are never ‘constant.’ (…) Living is indeed a continuation of this, but only here can one find the truth…I wish to keep turning my eyes towards it.”
（“Interview with Photographer and Film Director Yoshihiko Ueda: We Live Amidst Impermanence. I Wish to Affirm its Transience,” PINTSCOPE, April, 2021)
While Ueda’s works are serene and permeate with an air of ephemerality and gentleness, they are sharp and full of energy. Through his photographs we as “life” are once again able to feel the essence of the happiness that surrounds us everyday that we tend to be unaware of, as well as the fact that the world is changing, connecting, and is open to endless possibilities. We hope viewers will take this opportunity to embrace the rich and profound world that unfolds through his oeuvre.