x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

One artist's final portrait

An exhibition in Tokyo features Naoko Yogo's last photographs.

Sixteen prints hang on a stark white gallery wall: from a sharply edged rocky landscape flecked with glinting sunlight to the softly textured blossoms of mountainside trees. The Japanese photographer Naoko Yogo's monochrome images, which depict the sun-drenched landscape of southern Spain's Granada region, are as atmospheric as they are painstakingly detailed. But there is more to the photography than the aesthetics; the story behind the works resonates beyond the images printed on paper.

In December 2005, when Naoko was 34 years old, she was killed in her adopted city of London as a result of what one friend has described as a "an accident involving her bicycle, a bad corner and a truck". Her death came shortly after she took a one-month solo road trip around Granada, where she shot the mountainous Andalusian region with her Pentax 67. As the shock of her death began to subside and her family and friends embarked on the painful road of grieving, an unusual project took seed: her artist husband, Masakatsu Yogo, would develop her final images.

As a painter, Masakatsu is the first to admit that he had no previous experience developing photographs; a string of photography friends assisted him in his mission. Deciphering Naoko's scribbles and notes on exposure, development times and techniques, they painstakingly attempted to develop the images in exactly the same way she had planned to. Almost exactly four years after her death, 16 prints were finally exhibited last December at a London gallery, and a book featuring a selection of her works was published.

The exhibition has now moved to Tokyo and is on display at the printing-warehouse-turned-art-gallery Project Space Kandada. The final destination in a journey that could only have been as painful as it was intimate for her loved ones. Speaking at the Tokyo opening, Masakatsu said: "After Naoko died, I went to her darkroom and found 40 rolls of undeveloped films of about 400 shots. "I decided to make an exhibition with the help of photography friends. It has taken a long time because there were moments when it was too much. It was a very intense experience but every moment has been worth it.

"It is a great feeling to see her work hanging on the walls. After she died, I wanted this to happen for Naoko. Now she has a great exhibition and more people know about her photography." The photos, hanging simply in light wooden frames, beautifully depict the arid, curved contours of Granada's rugged landscape. The sunlight and shadows on its grainy rock faces, mountains and leaves are as detailed as a painting.

A second part of the exhibition includes a selection of her shots taken mostly in London in the years and months preceding her death: from a vertical shaft of light illuminating a Hyde Park path to the art deco lines of Battersea Power Station at night. The story behind the images touches not only those who knew Naoko. Few strangers viewing the show could fail to be moved by the intimate glimpse of what would become her final landscape.

The end result of this posthumous photographic diary is an intensely personal study of the beauty of the landscape as well as the intimacy of memories, the weight of bereavement and the light of moving on. Casting his eye around the gallery, Masakatsu added: "We have finally made this exhibition happen. It has taken a long time. This show does release me in some ways. It allows me to be free and to move forward on my own path. I feel we have achieved what Naoko would have wanted."

Granada by Naoko Yogo is on show at Project Space Kandada (www.commandn.net) until March 27. Donations and proceeds from her book will go towards Allotment, a travel award established for young Japanese artists in memory of Naoko.