Yoshiko Matsumoto: I want to photograph ethnic groups that constituted the ancient Silk Road

Yoshiko Matsumoto: I want to photograph ethnic groups that constituted the ancient Silk Road

  • By Misheel   -   Sep 12,2022
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Yoshiko Matsumoto, who is now 75 years old, has been in love with photography for almost 30 years and while traveling to foreign countries, she has been photographing the culture and characteristics of each country. About 27 years ago, she came to Mongolia and met a small family. Since then, she has photographed this small family’s daily life. In addition, she traveled and worked with Mongolian photographers.

Her works are on display at the Fine Arts Zanabazar Museum until September 15 at the joint exhibition of photographers “The Sun Rising in the Blue Sky” organized by the Gamma Agency.

When did you become interested in photography? How did you fall in love with photography?

I started taking photos in 1993. I am an accountant. I liked to travel when I could balance my work and vacation. At that time, I traveled to many European countries, including the UK, France and Germany. Two elderly photographers accompanied our team on one trip. I found it very interesting to see them concentrating on taking photos, arguing with each other about their composition and having a pleasant conversation after capturing a beautiful moment. At that time, I thought that it would be beautiful to photograph my travels, so I started taking photos.

What kind of photography do you specialize in?

I mostly take photos of everyday life. 

When did you first come to our country? Why did you decide to come to Mongolia to take photos?

I first came to Mongolia in 1995 with the sole purpose of traveling. At that time, I visited Umnugovi and Khovd provinces. I was reading the “Sea of Grass” book by a famous Japanese author. There is a section about Mongolia in this book. After reading that book, I thought that I should go to Mongolia and get to know the local people’s lifestyle.

How was your first impression of Mongolia? Was it different from what you imagined after reading that book?

The nature of this country seemed more beautiful than I imagined. I wondered whether I had entered another world. When the sun sets in the countryside, the whole field turns yellow and looks very beautiful. That beautiful sight is still vivid in my mind. Since then, I have been coming to Mongolia every summer.

How many countries have you traveled and photographed?

In addition to the European countries mentioned above, I have visited China, Pakistan and Namibia. In general, I want to travel and photograph the ethnic groups along the Silk Road.

Does that mean you study the history of the Silk Road?

Of course, I have done research on countries that constituted the ancient Silk Road Region to some extent. Even now, when new and interesting facts about it come out, I read them. Ever since I started photography, I’ve become more curious. Everything seems interesting to me. From that time, I wanted to study the Silk Road and photograph the lifestyle and heritage of the ethnic groups around it.

In addition to photographing happy moments, you must have seen and experienced the heartbreaking and painful moments, right?

Of course, when I travel to many places and take pictures, I see different environments, conditions and situations. But I want to capture as many refreshing and loving moments as possible.

You have been photographing a Mongolian family for over 20 years. How did you meet this family?

I used to come to Mongolia during the summer but in 2000, I came to see the Mongolian winter. I went to Khovd Province with photographer L.Ganzorig to get to know nomadic families and the Mongolian lifestyle. At that time, I met this family and since then, I have been photographing them for over 20 years.

How do you feel to witness the 20-year life of one family?

When I first met them, their son was little but now, he has grown up and even gotten married. Thinking about it, I find it strange and beautiful. I am like a member of their family. Now, they live in Orkhon Province.

How much have you traveled in Mongolia?

I haven’t visited all the provinces yet.

Does your family support your hobbies, namely traveling and photography?

Of course, my family worries about me. At the beginning, they even forbade me from doing these hobbies and did not understand me. Now, everyone understands me. I always keep in touch with them when I travel. So they worry less about me.

You are a member of the Japan Modern Photographers’ Association. How interested are Japanese people in your works related to Mongolia?

Japanese people are interested in Mongolian photos because they show different traditions and cultures than that of Japan. I worry about calling myself a photographer. I prefer to call myself a photography enthusiast.

You are presenting your works at the joint exhibition “The Sun Rising in the Blue Sky”. How many times have you exhibited your photographs in Mongolia before?

Since I started taking photos in Mongolia, I held my first solo exhibition in Tokyo in 2004 under the name “Mongolians”. In 2006, I held the exhibition “Rural Exhibition” in Erdeneburen soum of Khovd Province. I usually take photos of local people in Khovd, but I mostly exhibit them in either Ulaanbaatar or Tokyo. Unfortunately, locals can’t see their own photos. Therefore, I decided to show their photos through the “Rural Exhibition”. Then I participated in the joint exhibition of female photographers, “Eyes of a Girl”. My fourth exhibition is “The Sun Rising in the Blue Sky”.

Have you noticed and studied how your skills have improved from one exhibition to the next? How has the style of your work changed over time?

From coming up with the style and composition of a photo to exhibiting it, I think a lot and work harder. I occasionally judge myself by noticing other possibilities after taking a photo.

What do you think is the most important aspect of photography, technique or feeling?

Of course, good technique and tools are important. However, the feeling of using it to capture the best moment is more important.

What works are you planning to create now?

In 2018, I released a photo album named “Mongolian Women”. Starting from 2013, I tried to include the representation of women from all sectors of Mongolia. The role and participation of women in Mongolian society are high. That’s why I wanted to show Mongolia to foreigners through them. Now, I intend to continue this album. Also, I plan to hold an exhibition with photos from the album.

Misheel Lkhasuren