In place of a thousand words

Globally renowned photography and art curator Yumi Goto not only documents human stories herself, but also enables photographers around the world to do so

Published - March 04, 2019 01:08 pm IST

A survivor of the 1945 Hiroshima bombing carefully folds her school group photo, so that the lower half of her body in it, is not seen. She doesn’t want anyone to see her amputated leg. An Osaka-based photographer has captured this poignant moment, as part of his photo-book based on the lives of people who still suffer the aftermath of the war. It is one of many works, by multiple photographers, brought to light by Tokyo-based curator, editor, educator and publisher Yumi Goto.

Photographs that are layered, that narrate multiple stories by themselves, have to be exposed to the world by whatever means possible: this is the sole principle by which Yumi works. With no background in photography or journalism, it was no cakewalk for Yumi to explore photojournalism as a career option. But, the fact that certain stories which are manifested brilliantly through photographs, never see the light, triggered her to work with local photographers across the world. Her Reminders Photography Stronghold, now based in Tokyo, does exactly this: brings small but important stories to the table.

The genesis

Back in 1997, Masaru Goto, Yumi’s husband and a photojournalist who documented human interest stories, found it very difficult to get his work published in mainstream media. “I was very frustrated about this fact. And I found Masaru’s archives with a whole lot of negatives that were never published. After all, the subjects agree to be photographed only in the hope of having their stories heard,” Yumi speaks of how she began her career. After going online with Masaru’s images and meeting other photographers facing the same problem, she decided to educate herself in processes documentation. Book-making, she found, is an effective method.

A chance encounter with a local photographer in Cambodia made her realise that though they are familiar with the issues at hand, they often have neither equipment nor access to outside media. “Local photographers who are close to the issue or the community or even the people who receive the brunt, will invariably document it better. Such personal instances actually draw focus to the larger problem,” says Yumi, recalling the story of Belgian photographer Jan Rosseel, whom she happened to meet six years ago in Netherlands. In the 1980s, following a gang war in Belgium, a shooting had taken place inside a supermarket, where 28 people were killed. One of the victims was Rosseel’s father. His in-depth investigation into the matter, helped by the easy access he had to police reports, later gave shape to a photo-book titled Belgian Autumn . Reportage of this kind is what inspires her, says Yumi.

The curator also revisits another incident that happened relatively recently. One of the photographers in her collective — a Japanese mother who had anxiety issues about her parenting to the point that she was scared that she would hurt her own child — was assigned a project. “I persuaded her to take up this project on child domestic abuse which is, in fact, very common in Japan,” she says, adding, “Something in her changed, after following this story closely and documenting it.” This, Yumi considers, as an achievement. The photographer, in fact, is currently working on a story on adoption. It is a challenge in Japan, especially because many issues are still considered too ‘“taboo to be visualised.”

“Somethings are impossible to visualise. But in writing, it doesn’t seem to be as much of a problem,” she continues.

Through the past 22 years of her career, Yumi has also seen a lot of photographers getting disillusioned, if their work is not exposed. “If you have captured a story, you are invariably obliged to bring it out under any means possible. There is no point in going there and exploiting them, unless something can be done about it,” says the curator. With more local photographers coming to the fore now, more important stories are being documented. This, according to Yumi, is a real achievement.

Yumi Goto, was in the city recently, as part of Chennai Photo Biennale’s workshop on book-making.

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