photography that explores coming of age in japan by francesca allen
Francesca Allen's new photo book 'AYA' documents a blossoming friendship with Japanese musician Aya Gloomy that traverses language barriers and warms the heart.
Two years ago, 25-year-old London photographer Francesca Allen went to Tokyo and fell head over heels for her muse, Aya Yanase. Also known as Aya Gloomy, the musician is one year Francesca’s junior and part of the uber cool Big Love Records family. Despite being unable to speak the same language, the duo proceeded to spend a month doing everything together, with Francesca capturing the whole thing on film. The resulting photo book, AYA, documents a beautiful friendship and an intimate look into the life of a shy but very strong young woman in Japan.
“We first meet Aya in the suburbs of Tokyo,” opens the blurb that is about to seriously win you over in one fail swoop: “Her tiny apartment is beneath that of her Grandma who sometimes throws snacks from her balcony for Aya to catch. Aya’s home is full to the brim of everything one could imagine, with piles of dishes and clothes everywhere.” Across the book, the duo proceed to hang out, meet each other’s friends, travel, have sleepovers, and become the best of friends.
Ahead of AYA’s London launch at Tenderbooks tonight, we caught up with Francesca to learn more about their magical month together.
Hi Francesca! Did you go out to Japan with a project in mind?
I went to Tokyo specifically to make a book, but I don’t necessarily feel that dictated the photographs. I wasn’t sure what the book was going to be about and we took so many photos together that it could have become many different things; the edit played a big part in shaping the style and narrative.
How did you and Aya meet?
I was visiting Tokyo and trying to find new people to photograph; I met Nina Utashiro who pointed me in Aya’s direction, which I am eternally grateful for!
Do you remember your first impressions of Aya?
I first met Aya in Gotokuji, a neighbourhood in Tokyo where there’s an amazing temple full of maneki-neko (beckoning cat) statues. It was the midst of summer and Tokyo was incredibly hot and humid. I was with my friend Cosima and we waited on the station steps for Aya, drinking sake from a juice box. I don’t necessarily remember my first impression of Aya, but I remember that moment and I remember Aya finding it hilarious.
What songs do you associate with her?
Come With Me by CEO and Only God Knows by Young Fathers. Both of those songs played in the car when Aya took me to the airport to say goodbye and I listened to them on repeat while I was waiting for my flight. They simultaneously make me feel so happy and so sad, which I guess is what nostalgia is.
What are your best memories together?
My favourite day with Aya was our studio shoot. Our friend helped us find an amazing studio to use for the day — it was such a big space and we ran around all day together playing dress up and dancing to music. It felt so frivolous to be two small people in a studio large enough to drive a car in.
What happened when language was a barrier?
When you don’t have a language in common, you communicate in a different way, using visual cues around you rather than talking about your past experiences. We spent a lot of time looking at cute dogs, pointing things out to each other or talking about the food we were eating. Sometimes we would use translation applications when we were stuck on a word, but often we would find other methods of understanding.
Do you have a favourite photograph from the series?
So many! The edit was incredibly difficult for me as it’s so challenging to detach yourself from the memory of taking a photo, and analysing the image as a visual object. My three favourites were taken on the last day Aya and I spent taking photos; the first in the bath house, the second on the walk to the bus and lastly at the bus stop. Perhaps there was a sense of urgency that day, but everything seemed to come full circle.
AYA is published by Libraryman and launches 4 of September.