NEW YORK—Manabu Yamanaka takes his time. His approach is contemplative. The Japanese photographer researches, studies, plots, plans and scouts before committing to a project and moving forward. Over a period of more than 25 years, Yamanaka has completed five major series, capturing challenging subjects—social outcasts and marginalized populations including homeless people, street children, the physically deformed and the elderly. In the mid-1990s, when he decided to address the topic of aging, he volunteered to help take care of the senior citizens that would become his subjects.
A photo from the elderly series (“Gyahtei #16,” shown above) is currently on view at Stux Gallery as a part of “Summer: ‘Piping Down the Valleys Wild.'” The gallery describes the 16-artist group show as presenting “a timely update on the discussion of the sustainability of innocence in the contemporary world.”
Yamanaka’s nude photographs of elderly women are unsettling to some. In a 2005 interview, Yamanaka explained how he immersed himself in the lives of his aged subjects (all 90+ years old) to understand their world, gain their trust and help them overcome the entrenched modesty of Japanese culture to confront the reality of their aging bodies and the transition from life to death: “I started to [get to] know the old [women] about a year before shooting this photo. I had taken care of [their] daily needs, bathing, feeding, reading to [them], as well as taking [them] to the toilet. So we had developed an intimate relationship. [They] became comfortable being naked in my presence.”
See all the photos in the “Gyahtei” series and read Tokyo-based Yamanaka’s statement about the project here.
Caption: Detail of “Gyahtei #16,” 1995 (silver gelatin print).
Photo © Arts Observer