At the age of 51, photographer Yonehara Yasumasa or YONE has become a powerful personality within Japan’s popular culture. A quick stroll there his HYPEBEAST blog you can quickly gain an accurate understanding of why he consistently attracts upwards of 100,000 hits every month with visuals. The combination of sex and a candid innocence brought forth by “Cheki” instant cameras creates an interesting juxtaposition between subject and medium.
As a close associate of CLOT co-founder Edison Chen, YONE was brought on board to shoot the lookbook for CLOT’s 2010 fall/winter “Dynasty” collection. Known mostly for this erotic-based photography, the style and approach wasn’t lost as YONE as he looked to showcase both a mix of beauty and fashion. We spoke with YONE regarding both his methods, thoughts about the Dynasty collection and topics regarding people’s perception of his photography.
Photography: Yonehara Yasumasa
Interview: Eugene Kan
Special Thanks: JIA Hong Kong, Playboy Condoms, Inducer
Interview with Yonehara Yasumasa
How did you originally get linked up with CLOT?
About 8 years ago, I was photographing for the magazine Smart Girl where I also served as an editor. I was at a hotel doing a photo shoot and through some mutual friends I was introduced to Edison who was staying at the same hotel. During his visits, Edison would hit me up and we would hang out and eventually become good friends. This time around, Edison asked if I’d be interested in working together for CLOT’s upcoming collection.
You’re mostly known for your female and erotic photography, what’s it like when the focus is partially on the fashion such as in the case of this project with CLOT? Did you have a particular mood or aesthetic you were looking to achieve?
In the past, I have done work where it wasn’t solely focused on shooting girls. I have shot some fashion spreads in the past. But this time around, the difference wasn’t all that great from my usual work. I basically adjusted my style to situate myself in the middle between focusing on both the apparel and the girls.
What are your thoughts on this season’s CLOT collection?
The biggest change this season versus previous collections has been its maturity. There’s been a greater emphasis on knits and cuts whereas the past relied more on large-sized prints and visuals. My favorite piece this season is the Challenger jacket as it brings a bit of CLOT’s Chinese background into the design.
Aside from the actual work aspect, you’re often taking quite a few photos for yourself and others with your Cheki camera and subsequently handing them out. Is photography something you like to make a social activity in a sense?
Whenever I go to photo shoots, the whole project often comes together because of the collective help of everybody. I like to ensure I’m grateful for their help and another reason is sometimes I can’t remember everybody’s name.
How do you usually choose your photographs? Do you have a certain work flow?
I usually look at the body language of the models. It really comes down to how natural they look and how they’re posing. Not all the models I work with are necessarily working with a lot of experience so I try to look for something that doesn’t seem overly contrived.
I see you shoot in both Cheki, instant camera formats and with digital cameras, how do you differentiate which to use?
With the Chekis, I often try to take portrait photos broken into multiple parts as well as trying to achieve the colors and aesthetic associated with instant cameras. There’s a certain mood that come with using instant cameras. However with digital cameras, I use it for its speed and convenience.
Do you think that your style lies inherently in Cheki or instant camera styles?
I don’t really look at that. People might see Cheki photography and think of it as my style but I look at it as trying to take an instant format camera and acheving a certain style to it all. Some people may have gotten into instant photography through seeing my photos. Often they then realize that they can achieve similar results to what I’ve done and I feel happy about it.
How has the public’s perspective of your photography changed over the years since you first started?
My experience with photographers Nan Goldin and Nobuyoshi Araki’s helped influence and teach me a lot about photography. Each of them would take me on shoots involving their friends and it helped me develop my skills. They would mostly shoot with instant cameras but the final product was amazing. At the beginning, people figured I was just a guy that really liked girls with some negative connotations to my work. But things have changed now, there’s more respect to my work and how I’ve been able to achieve success with an instant camera. Most of my photography is of Japanese models but if I shot with more foreigners, it would probably elicit some greater reactions. But I’ll continue using mostly Japanese models.
Having photographed a similar style over the years with hotels serving as the backdrop, does it ever get stagnant or boring?
Some people may feel that backgrounds such as hotel rooms and bathrooms are probably a bit boring and the same but each girl brings in a different angle to each background. This results in different styles and aesthetics, I don’t really feel that they get boring.
Most of your imagery is on often on the cusp of full-on nudity and is usually pretty suggestive, what’s the difference of showing and not showing nudity? What about how men and women view your photography differently?
If you look at my images, some of them are fully naked. There isn’t a great difference, but hopefully my style creates a bit of a fantasy feeling cause you can’t see everything. It leaves a bit up to the imagination for the viewer. Men usually look at my photography as sexy and awesome while girls view it more as cute.
What’s brought you the most joy from photography?
The best is probably when I see the model really enjoying herself. It’s a mutually beneficial experience for everybody as I love my job.
Any last words?
Try doing what I’m doing at 51 [laughs].