Tsutomu Yamagata and Surveillance by Consent

The photographer set up infrared cameras in young women's bedrooms to offer a glimpse into their banal everyday lives.


WordsHenri Robert

Surveillance (2018) © Tsutomu Yamagata

This somewhat unusual project might initially make the viewer feel uncomfortable. For the series Surveillance (2018), presented by Zen Foto Gallery, Japanese photographer Tsutomu Yamagata invited women to set up infrared cameras—usually used for monitoring animals—in their bedrooms.

After launching an online appeal for candidates, the photographer, born in Tokyo in 1966, examined the portraits and personal details he received before giving the women the camera. Following this, he intervened no further until it was time to gather the photographs taken.


What lies behind these lives

The young women involved in the project were from a variety of backgrounds: employees, teachers, art school students… The images were captured without sound or light, when the person moved around the room. They sometimes paid attention to the presence of the camera, and at other times forgot about it completely. As the artist explains in the text accompanying the book published by the gallery, the idea was for ‘the camera to continue to film even when they would be tired of being photographed. When they gave the camera back to me, they seemed more curious to see the results than I was, as if they were getting a glimpse into the life of someone else.’

‘For some reason, I found a lot of them to be quite distant and bold. For this project, I looked into their lives to discover what was hiding behind this charm and mystery’, the artist continues. The photographs presented, the majority of which are in black and white but also in red tones (specific to infrared light), show these women alone, often naked, or while getting dressed, unoccupied, lying down, or facing the camera.

Before this series, Ten Disciples, published in 2015, saw the artist receive the first Emerging Asian Photography Grant from the Emaho Foundation. For this work, Tsutomu Yamagata went to the hot springs in Tamagawa in Akita Prefecture, known for their medicinal properties and often visited by cancer patients.


Surveillance (2018), a project by Tsutomu Yamagata, is published by Zen Foto Gallery.

Surveillance (2018) © Tsutomu Yamagata

Surveillance (2018) © Tsutomu Yamagata

Surveillance (2018) © Tsutomu Yamagata