#cancerbeauty by Hideka Tonomura

The series of photographs 'Shining Woman' seeks to change the way cancers affecting women and the women themselves are perceived.


WordsHenri Robert

“Portraits of Life” - Hideka Tonomura

In 2019, photographer Hideka Tonomura embarked on the Shining Woman Project, in which she takes portraits of women fighting cancer. Wanting to help them overcome this ordeal, the photographer travelled across Japan to meet women who had contacted her via the Instagram account for the project. Some of these portraits were compiled in a book published by Zen Photo Gallery in 2020 as part of an exhibition.

The artist, born in Kobe in 1979, had previously produced the series Mama Love, which examined the sexuality of an unfaithful mother, and for which she was awarded the Nikon Juna21 prize in 2003. Her work, which is centred on the issue of women’s place in society, has since become known beyond Japanese borders.


Life & Soul

After being diagnosed with cervical cancer, Hideka Tonomura’s outlook darkened as she feared losing this organ. During her time in hospital, she met women who, in spite of their illness, remained feminine and glowing with life. She was profoundly affected by these encounters and started her project with a view to celebrating them.

When appealing for participants, she explained how she was impressed and moved by these individuals who, ‘even if they lose their uterus, breasts, and hair, strive to live and continue to shine as a woman.’ 

The photographs are divided into three different categories. Portraits of Life, taken in a digital format, shows the everyday, current existence of these women. The other two are composed of images developed in a dark room: Proof of Life represents objects that are important to the women, connected to their new life, and Portraits of the Soul contains more poignant images that are marked by a sense of both life and death.

The women featured here are not models but rather participants, actresses who wanted their voices to be heard and to proclaim that femininity is not exclusively associated with a part of the body, and does not disappear along with the organ.


Shining Woman (2020), a book of photographs by Hideka Tonomura, is published by Zen Foto Gallery.

'Portraits of Life' - Hideka Tonomura

'Proof of Life' - Hideka Tonomura

'Portraits of the Soul' - Hideka Tonomura

'Portraits of the Soul' - Hideka Tonomura