I don't sleep

Aya Fujioka

In the photo collection ‘I don’t sleep’ (Akaaka, 2009), Tokyo-based photographer Aya Fujioka (b. 1972) gathered images from trips back to her hometown of Kure in Japan’s Hiroshima Prefecture, taken between 2000 and 2006. The photographs show scenic views between the mountains of the Seto Inland Sea, they show her hometown and her local family. Yet, rather than an exploration of nostalgia or love for the place she grew up in, it is a sense is one of wandering without aim that envelopes the whole series. The title of the book, ‘I don’t sleep’, then not only evokes the stubborn will of a child nearing bedtime but also seems like a spell one may chant while roaming around.

The sense of wandering in Fujioka’s images is perhaps a result of her spending a year and a half of her late 20s living in Taiwan, then vagabonding through various European countries. It is because of the time she spent in foreign countries that, now at home and familiar territory, she is shrouded in a sense of unbelonging and perplexion, something which inevitably shows in her photographs. In her postface, she writes: “Moments in which I question if I knew my family / I stand still / again and again I meet these landscapes anew”

The one figure to appear throughout is Fujioka’s mother. I use the word ‘appear’ but in truth, there are only few photos of her facing the camera. Most feature her from the back, or were taken at an angle that does not show her face. Instead, the photos focus on the mother’s hands and what she uses them for. Her thin, knobbly fingers shaped by the mother’s long years spent working as a hairdresser, and the long, thin nails, occasionally adorned with red nailpolish, evoke an enchanting beauty, like that of a sorceress. By photographing her mother from up close and the landscapes of her hometown, where she had spent her entire life, from a distance, Fujioka perhaps aimed to accentuate the ties she has to both.

‘I don’t sleep’ (Akaaka, 2009) © Aya FUJIOKA. All rights reserved.

The person who appears throughout is Fujioka’s mother. But there are very few conventional photographs of her facing the camera, rather many from behind or at an angle that conceals her face. Instead the images focus on her hands and her actions. Having worked as a hairdresser for a long time, their hangs from her mother’s narrow and crooked, occasionally red manicured fingers a sense of enchantment like that of a sorceress. With her hometown – the place her mother has lived all her life – as the backdrop, Fujioka switches between capturing her mother up close and from a slight distance to taking a step back and just observing her mother. Fujioka was perhaps trying to capture her mother by placing herself in her mother’s shoes.

Her mother’s enchanting gestures draw you in from afar. The way she sits on her seat, her back to the camera, facing the calm Seto Inland Sea and the mountains in the distance, inevitably reminds us of young children staring out of train windows, transfixed by the world speeding by. Her hand, resting softly on the glass window, then seems to float somewhere between her youth and present, and hide a secret wish to hold onto the view under her fingertips.

‘I don’t sleep’ (Akaaka, 2009) © Aya FUJIOKA. All rights reserved.

Mika Kobayashi

Photography researcher / Visiting research scholar at Tokyo Museum of Modern Art

Active in many fields including conducting lectures and workshops on Japanese and international photography, planning exhibitions and contributing to magazines.

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