‘Aya’, the Birth of a Friendship Captured on Camera
Photographer Francesca Allen spent a month with musician Aya Yanase in spring 2017 and drew on her experience to create a photo book.
In spring 2017, British photographer Francesca Allen spent a month with Japanese musician Aya Yanase. Thus, Aya was born, a book that retraces this unique, nascent, yet intense friendship.
Aya Yanase, born in 1994 and better known as Aya Gloomy, is represented by Big Love Records, an important name on the independent Tokyo scene. The two women had met briefly a year earlier through a mutual friend. Francesca Allen had found herself in Japan for two weeks, supposedly on holiday, but in reality in search of inspiration.
Images as the only language
Instantly charmed by Aya Yanase, Francesca Allen returned to visit her in spring 2017 with the intention of creating a book with her as the subject. With neither of the pair able to speak the other’s language, the two had to come up with alternative modes of communication. During the month that they spent together, largely in silence (and sometimes, in emergencies, using translation applications), the two learnt to communicate through images, pointing things out to one another in their surroundings.
However, it is through the camera lens that the pair built the strongest and most intimate links. Francesca Allen became Aya Yanase’s shadow, following her everywhere from her home in the suburbs of Tokyo to her grandmother’s house, through long evenings with friends. The selection of photos is a mix of snapshots of the artist working in her studio, alongside more spontaneous images taken at bus stops or in bedrooms. Through this one person, a beautiful portrait of Japanese youth begins to emerge, with intimate images taken as part of a close relationship. With each of the images published demonstrative of the relationship between the pair, the book, titled simply Aya, is rather self-explanatory. Published by Libraryman, just 500 copies were made available.
Feminine friendship transcended
The photographer does not appear in the images herself, but her presence haunts the work. Her book documents both process and digression, a story of two girls getting to know one another. Francesca Allen works mostly for magazines such as Dazed, Riposte, and Vogue, where her work often explores femininity. Her first large-scale work, published in the magazine ID in 2015, delicately documents her younger sister’s adolescence. The photographer discovered, through her work with Aya Yanase, a largely unexplored theme within journalism: female friendships. ‘There’s not enough journalism about female friendships, they’re not given the same credit as romantic relationships’, Allen told the British Journal of Photography in an interview, ‘but I actually think they can be so much stronger.’
This unique link with Aya is not just demonstrated through photographs, it is also present in the drawings and manuscript notes written by Francesca Allen and Aya Yanase that are peppered throughout the book. Aya Yanase’s notes in Japanese are left untranslated, as a means of preserving the authenticity of her writing, but also as a means, one way or another, of conserving a small secret at the heart of this relationship laid bare.
Aya (2018), a photo book by Francesca Allen, is published by Libraryman.
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