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Hideka Tonomura and the censored beauty: 殿村任香とcancer beauty

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We truly admire Hideka Tonomura’s artwork and had the pleasure of chatting with her. Hideka’s artwork establish and impressive and suggestive tie-in between beauty and censorship.  We invite you to read this interview and know better about Hideka’s photography art and her most recent work “Shining Woman Project”

1. What is your earlier childhood memory related to the art of photography?

I didn’t realize it was art though, I saw the photo which really touched my heart in my childhood. It was photo by Kyoichi Sawada, a battlefield photographer, took a picture of his wife in private. The picture shows his love and mercy to his wife. In the photo of love wrapped in sadness, I remember seeing a wavelength, I would say it is similar to the «prayer» of the photo, which is incredibly mysterious and indescribable

2. When did you get your first camera?

It was when I was an elementary school student that I first started taking photo with an awareness of “camera”. There was always violence in my family. As a slight defiance against the fear, I held my camera and pointed my lens at my family.

3. How is it to grow in Japan and become a photograph artist?

In Japan, there is a wonderful art and culture of photography, and there is a saying that «if you are photographed, your soul will be taken». I think it is an animism among the Japanese that has taken root from the syncretism of Shinto and Buddhism. It is still not so easy to make your living as an artist here. However, there are many great Japanese photographers who have created a way for our predecessors to interact with the world, and I would like to continue that and create a way for photographers today to make their own way to the world as well.

Photo: Courtesy of Hideka Tonomura

4. We would love to know about your first project as a professional artist?

My first photobook is a collection of photographs of what happened to my family. It’s a story about the scene of my mother’s adultery and my father’s debt.
My mother’s extramarital affair was a revenge brought about by the long darkness that my mother went through, who had long been under the control of my father’s violence, but she got terminal stomach cancer, which brought her back to life. I photographed the scene of my mother’s affair and thereafter became an accomplice with her. But when I looked at the picture, it was a picture of love, love of my mother and myself. It was not until I saw this picture that I realized that I was loved by my mother. This is a picture of the moment where I accepted a woman as a mother and a mother as a woman.

5.  What one word describes your art ?

It’s love. Are there any other things that can fuel human?

6. Japan seems a country with lots of opportunities for young artists and people, however, we know difficulties are faced everywhere in the world. Which have been the biggest obstacles you had to overcome during your professional career?

I think there are relatively many systems and opportunities like competitions to support young artists in Japan, but there are some works that cannot be widely accepted here. Even if they are appreciated overseas, they may not be accepted at the same time in Japan.

I think my work is one of them. However, I was lucky enough to have someone to appreciate and support me around, so I think I could continue until now. It’s really hard to build your own life while creating art. But It is also true that’s why some works were born. I am not sure whether it’s better to have a lot of support or not in terms of creativity, but I hope art will spread more naturally in people’s daily lives. I consider artists as national treasures. It is only art that can communicate in the world without arms.

7. You are working in a new adventure, the “Shining Woman Project” (@shining_woman_project) could you tell us a bit about it?

I got cervical cancer this year and was admitted to the gynecological hospital for surgery. There I faced my own femininity and met women in gynecology wards who were also fighting cancer. That’s how I started this project. Despite their own illness, the women never forgot to be fashionable, wore lipstick, and their lives and femininity were shining. I was moved by the radiance of their femininity, and I wanted to convey and spread this radiance. Following is the statement of the project:

                         SHINING WOMAN     #cancerbeauty

Hideka Tonomura


For women, the loss of the uterus, breasts and hair is a profound grief.

Despair and madness.

A young woman who dreams of childbirth.
A woman undergoing infertility treatment.

As their cancer grows, they are losing their wombs, breasts, hairs, and losing their dreams of having their own children.

Confronting the fear of losing a woman’s symbol is a sign of death.
Accepting of its fears is dialogue with hell.

Still, women wear lipstick, nice clothes, wig and go out into the battlefield.

Verbal violence and prejudice.
Unconsciousness is really scary.

Disappointment in hating others for their mean words.

But I may also be unconsciously using cowardly words.

As a woman, it can happen to me.
And it can also happen to any men those who have the dearest partners.

I want to change the concept and how people see cancer patients as well as women’s diseases in general.

I hope the world will become a place where women can live better.

I hope you will be able to go out into the world without fear everyday.
Even if you lose your breasts, womb and hair, I hope nobody will suffer from any verbal abuse and violence.

Femininity is not determined by the organ.

Women always have the strength to accept any despair and to be beautiful.

I know the true meaning of shining.
This is the power to fight life.

A woman whose dream is to see her children grow up.
A woman whose dream is to fall in love.

Life is beautiful.



Any case.

Life is always beautiful.
Women are shining.

I keep photographing that brilliance.

Photo: Courtesy of Hideka Tonomura

8. What is the correlation of cancer disease and photography?

Women who challenged to be photographed said to me:
‘It’s a sense of getting back what I lost in cancer.’
‘Being photographed means accepting wounds and diseases.’

Being photographed means accepting your present and facing it.
It’s a memory that I want to forget and a reality that I don’t want to face, but the women accept me and ask me to take a photograph. I think it’s because they know that the phenomenon is a women-specific and is always beautiful. Also, I think photograph are the only means to accept those women’s prayers and leave them behind.

9.  What would you tell to women that are facing this unasked experience like cancer disease?

Not only women with women-specific disease, but also any women who have cancer have a lot to lose. But women have the strength to be beautiful and know to shine at all times. Cancer is part of life. I am not aware of the pain of women fighting high-stage cancer as my cancer is at early stage, but I want to be considerate of their feelings as a woman and would like them to express a lot of the beauty that comes from being a cancer. I think I am happy that I got cancer. Otherwise I was not able to know that there are many wonderful women who shine in the world. And I really want all women to have a medical examination. Same to you all, and also for your loved one.

10. Please tell us whatever you want to share with us. You can wait for a while.

#cancerbeauty. I want to spread this concept to Japan and to the world.

Thank you so much, from the bottom of our hearts, to share about your work with our readers. We wish you the best and great success in the future. Genki de!

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