WORKS 1985-1993

1993, (Out of print) Korinsha Press, (絶版) 光琳社出版
Design : Shigeru Kiyoshima, Tomoko Futamura

The early 1980s were an exciting time in Japan. Many top designers were at their peak, and the worlds of fashion and photography experienced an incredible synergy. Ueda got his start in 1982 shooting for magazines like Ryuko Tsushin, and gradually came to find his own aesthetic within the demands of commercial work. From 1985 to 1987, he shot a series of advertisements for the fashion house Jun featuring New York artists and musicians like Robert Mapplethorpe, Andy Warhol and Miles Davis. A solo show of the entire portfolio then led to a commission for beverage conglomerate Suntory; this time the subjects were literary figures, craftsmen and researchers. These two acclaimed portrait series really launched his commercial career in a big way.

A vision of my own? The fashion photography years
“My first big break came not long after going independent in 1981. An editor from Ryuko Tsushin, probably the most cutting-edge fashion magazine of the day, asked me to do their monthly portrait page. I was only twenty-four, but that brought in a lot of fashion photography jobs. “Around that time, the French monthly Marie Claire launched its Tokyo edition, and I was chosen to cover the Tokyo Collection runway shows. I’d never shot a fashion show before, so I had no idea fashion show photographers typically had to stick to one pre-ordained position on either side of the catwalk, like the camera flashes you always see on TV. Well, that wasn’t for me, I could just picture the photos I’d get. Exactly like the boring ones in every fashion magazine, shot low-angle up at the model in a blitz of flash. So I got up to snoop around and somehow managed to locate a good spot in the standing area. After that, I did several shows this way, but when it was all over and I took my rolls in, my editor flew into a rage. ‘You call these fashion photos? You can’t even see the clothes! Totally unusable!’ Just then the editor-in-chief appeared and wedged between us to examine the positives on the lightbox. After a good long look, he abruptly pronounced, ”These aren’t half bad. What’s the page allotment?” Suddenly the scales began to tip in my favor, and before I knew it my images had expanded into a special section. Even more amazing, as the discussion turned to plans for the next feature issue on ‘The World of Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto,’ I somehow found myself assigned to shoot Yohji’s portrait and fashion pages. Me, a total unknown newcomer, shoulder to shoulder with veteran Kazumi Kurigami covering Rei. Looking back on it all now, I have to say that editor-in-chief made a very reckless rookie pick. I can still remember as if it were yesterday how thrilled I was, though I knew virtually nothing about fashion at the time. learned gradually; the more I shot, the more interesting—and dare I say fun—the work became. Yet was fashion photography really my thing? I was starting to have serious doubts.”

Toward portraiture The faces of New York
“I kept at fashion photography for another two years or so, until one day I made up my mind to quit. It just wasn’t for me. The images I was making weren’t my own, fashion shoots simply couldn’t deliver the kind of photography I envisioned. Or so I thought, when a series of advertisements for the prêt-à-porter brand Jun sent me to New York to do head-shots of leading figures in the arts. The commission ushered in days of ecstatic activity. I was using relatively large-format cameras at the time, so I naturally chose a 6 x 7 for the portraits. The phrase “atmospheric presence” was on my lips back then, an ineffable quality that wafted about personalities like smoke—which I equated with what I sought by way of backgrounds or rather the figure-background relationship. But how to shoot that? To my mind, the question what to place in back to make that interplay easier to depict. My two assistants for this New York series and I went out to Central Park in the early morning to gather dirt, which we took up onto the roof of our loft accommodations and smeared over a canvas backdrop—what a mess!—to make an impromptu “mudcloth.” We really had no idea what we were doing, but an impossibly limpid blue late autumn New York sky watched over our efforts. “Among the most memorable subjects I shot (of course I remember each and every one of them) was Miles Davis, who sat so supremely in an African hide chair. The directness of his gaze was unforgettable. The day we shot another important person for me, Robert Mapplethorpe, I was on edge from the morning. I was tired of waiting for hours and had just stretched out on a couch in the loft studio for some shut-eye, when I heard footsteps and my heart leaped. Mapplethorpe showed up in a very simple outfit—a grey jacket over his slender build, thin jeans and black boots—he sat down, crossed his legs and peered straight into the camera with a look that said, Go right ahead and shoot. I moved in closer. We stared at each other through the lens for ages. Mapplethorpe was allowing me total freedom. As soon as I sensed that gentleness in his eyes—a fresh, almost imperceptible beckoning glint of a smile—I clicked the shutter. It was a very moving moment for me—I treasure that portrait of Mapplethorpe. After the shoot, we talked a bit about photos and portraiture. At the very last, he told me, ‘I’ve taken many of the same people you have. Most of my photos are better (laugh), but there’s one here that beats mine, your David Salle.’ He pointed to my close up of the postmodern painter in profile, with cigar in hand. I was thrilled, his words seemed so very unassuming and kind. I thanked him for the day and shook his hand, then watched him leave. I can still picture the great photographer descending the stairs. That was our first and last meeting ever. A cold winter’s day in 1986, he was already afflicted with AIDS at the time. I believe I really came to understand and appreciate his photographs from that point on.”
(Ueda’s portraits of Miles Davis and Robert Mapplethorpe were later selected by publishers for the covers of their respective autobiographies.)

from the "Photographer Interview" section of the FujiFilm homepage (used with permission)



そんな風に撮影を続けていくうちに、ファッション写真は自分には合わない、もう辞めようとある日思ったのです。ファッション写真を撮り始めて約2年後のことでした。自分自身の写真を撮っている気がしなくなったのです。自分が写真に期待しているものが、ファッション写真に写るとは思えなくて。そんな頃に、JUNのブランドの広告で、ニューヨークのアーティストや作家のポートレートを撮るシリーズがスタートしました。私にとっては、胸躍る日々の始まりとなりました。その頃私は比較的大型のカメラを使っていましたが、ポートレートを撮る時は6×7のカメラを自然に選ぶことが多かった。当時「空気感」という何だか人を煙に巻く様な、よく分からない感覚だけの言葉をしばしば使っていました。背景に対してもその様に「空気感」を求めるところがあったと思います。人物と背景の関係というのも、人物とそれを取り巻く空気としてどう写るのか、それでどういう背景を置くことで、それを描きやすくするのか考えていました。ニューヨークで撮影した「EX JUN」のシリーズでは、助手と2人で朝方のセントラルパークへ土を採りに行き、それをロフトの屋上で布バックに塗り込み、どうなるか分からぬままドロドロになりながら「土染め」の背景をつくりました。時々作業に疲れて見上げたニューヨークの初冬の空は、どこまでも青く透明でした。私が撮った人々の中でよく思い出すのは(当然その際撮った全ての人々のカメラの前でのいちいちは、鮮明に覚えていますが)アフリカの皮の椅子の上に超然と座る美しいマイルス・デイビスの姿です。その真っ直ぐカメラを見つめる目の透明感は、今も忘れることは出来ません。またもう一人私にとってとても大事な人、ロバート・メイプルソープを撮った時は、私は朝からそわそわして落ち着きがなかった。長い時間が経ち、待ち疲れ、ロフトのスタジオに置いてあった長椅子に横になり、目を閉じウトウトしていると、突然、階段を駆け上ってくる乾いた靴音が聞こえて来ました。その時私の心臓がドクドクと高鳴ったのを覚えています。メイプルソープが私のカメラの前に足を組んで座った姿は、細身の体にグレーのジャケット、細いジーンズに黒いブーツといったとてもシンプルな姿だった。カメラに真っ直ぐ向かう視線は、何か「丸ごと撮っていいよ」と言っている様に私には思えました。カメラを彼の方に少し近づけた。そして私たちは、レンズを通して長く見つめ合った。メイプルソープが私に何かを許した。そういう優しい眼差しを感じた瞬間シャッターを押した、忘れられない大事な瞬間でした。すがすがしく、ほんの少し、誰にも分からない様に微笑みをたたえた彼の眼差し。そんな、私にとって、とても大事な、ロバート・メイプルソープのポートレートが撮れた。撮影が終わり、彼としばらくの間写真の話をした。ポートレートの話。最後に彼が言った、「あなたが撮っている多くの人を私も撮っている。ほとんどの写真は私の方が良いと思うが(笑)、一人だけ負けたと感じる写真がある。」それは画家のディヴィッド・サーレが葉巻を手に持った横顔のアップの写真のことだった。私は嬉しかった。何かとっても素直なやさしい愛情の様なものを彼の言葉の中に感じたのだと思う。私は彼に今日のお礼を言って強く握手をした。そして階段を下ってゆく偉大な写真家の後ろ姿を見送った。その後ろ姿は私の網膜に今も鮮明に焼き付いている。それが私の、ロバート・メイプルソープとの初めての出会いの日であり、最後の別れの日でもあった。私が本当にロバート・メイプルソープの写真を理解し、好きになったのはこの時だった。この時彼は既にエイズを発症していた。1986年の冬の寒い日だった。

FUJIFILM Home Page Fotonoma「The Photographer Interview 幸福な写真に向かって」より掲載。

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