With the rhythmic repetition and seriality that has become a signature of his style, Yokonami photographed one thousand schoolgirls, aged three to five, in identical dress, pose, and setting. He extended the initial project from one hundred children to a thousand, inspired by a visit to Sanjūsangen-dō Hall in Kyoto famed for its thousand life-sized statues of the Buddhist goddess of mercy, Kannon, all similar in size and appearance but unique in their countenances.
In stark, half-length portraits, each of the girls poses with a piece of fruit held precariously between her left ear and shoulder. The array of different fruits presented provide the only compositional deviation among them but the tricky task of balancing the object elicits varied reactions — a gentle tilt of the head, an awkward shrug of the shoulders, a confident uprightness... a wince, a frown, a smirk, a smile. The slightest differences in posture and expression stand out against the strict uniformity. Certain traits recur though, and viewed collectively they teeter between singularity and homogeneousness.
Yokonami’s methodology is rooted in the Japanese philosophy of aesthetics and cultural conceptions of selfhood. The simplicity of his compositions mirror his interest in the ideals of innocence and purity and a reverence for an understanding the world as a dynamic, unified whole. Japanese preschoolers, like those pictured, begin to learn “kejime” or the “distinction” between honne (inner feelings) and tatemae (public personae), a fundamental principle in the structure of Japanese society. Yokonami finds beauty and grace in the emotional rawness before this dyadic sense of self is fully formed.
Like a macro-lens counterbalance to Yokonami’s Assembly series of similarly uniformed subjects, 1000 Children highlights the subtleties of individuality and in reverse reminds us of our universal collectivity. With each reiteration, Yokonami considers the complexities of identity, suggesting a reflexive (and essential) congruence between individual expression and communal belonging.
A limited edition monograph accompanies this exhibition and is available for pre-order.
Osamu Yokonami (b. 1967, Kyoto, Japan) has had recent solo exhibitions in Japan and the United States, and participated in the Daegu Photo Biennial. His personal and commercial work is widely known in Japan, appearing regularly in numerous publications. Yokonami is based in Tokyo, Japan.