Yasumasa Yonehara

by W. David Marx
29 January 2009
An interview with Japanese editor and photographer Yasumasa Yonehara
When did you found the magazine egg?

I didn't found it, but I came up with the concept.

In Japan, all media is created from a perspective friendly to old men. In the early 1990s, all the high school girls featured in the mass media would have pigtails, long skirts over their knees, and white knee-high socks. But out on the streets, the most popular girls wore "loose socks" and short skirts. There weren't many of these girls at the time, but they dominated the energy on the streets. I realized that if media started to show readers these girls, everyone would start idolizing them.

At that time, someone came to me with an idea about making a magazine showing popular normal girls on the street, and from that, we started egg.

At first, egg was a magazine targeting guys, right?

Yeah. I wanted to make a magazine for girls, and I got into a fight with the publisher about that. They wanted to make a magazine for guys.

I did egg for two years. I was in charge of the high school girls page, and at the peak, I would do about 40 pages a month.

I didn't really know about what the publisher was trying to do. I just wanted to show photos of these trendy girls hanging out on the street. I think I was able to create high-quality documentary work during that time.

Then the egg editors replaced me and started doing the pages themselves, but they had no way to actually learn about these bad high school girls hanging out on the street. So they just thought about what would be the easiest way to produce those pages. They started telling the girls, "If you dress like this, we will put you in the magazine." Make the skirt shorter! Wear sexier clothes! Then egg started to actually style the girls.

I couldn't agree to that way of doing it. I thought it was fine at first to use girls with short skirts and sexy clothes, but it was just so ossan to make them all look a certain way for the magazine.

Then later, even though high school girls would change their style, the editors made egg about the ganguro subculture, as if all high school girls were like that. And even now they keep doing that same idea.

When did you start shooting photographs professionally?

In 2002, when I started the magazine Smart Girls.

Was Smart Girls supposed to be the sister title to Takarajima's Smart men's fashion magazine? Did you come up with the idea?

I thought of the original idea. I used to do a pin-up feature for Smart called "Chin-Kame" with photographer Keisuke Naito. It sold well but it was really ossan. When I was making "Chin-Kame," we were talking one day and thought it would be interesting to make a magazine that had lots of photographers shooting girls' pin-ups in their own style of what they thought was sexy. This seemed interesting so I story-boarded it and took it to Takarajima. Then we started that magazine as an offshoot title of Smart called Smart Girls.

One day, when we were in the process of shooting for the magazine, the cameramen were taking too long to do the lighting and the models were all bored. This is right when the [Fujifilm] cheki instant camera came out, so I started to take pictures of the girls with the cheki. When I shot them with the instant camera, the girls wouldn't get so tense like with a real photographer. Once we published these instant photos in the magazine, the feedback was great, so we put out a photobook.

I sold 150,000 of my first photobook. The publisher was always saying the colors were too dark and the pictures were out of focus, but I would tell them, you can't help it! It's cheki! But once the book sold well they stopped complaining. From that point, I started having my name listed as the cameraman using a cheki.