Back in 2011 when photographer Akihito Yoshida visited his cousin living in a small rural town in Miyazaki prefecture, he discovered a very special relationship. The younger cousin, born in 1990, was living with and caring for his Grandmother, born in 1928. With over 60 years between them, they had done everything together. The grandmother had been there for every important day. “I grew up basking in the love of my grandmother, so it’s only normal that I care for her until her death,” the cousin told Yoshida.
Yoshida snapped a few pictures of the unusual pair and when he got home and was looking over them he was struck by an odd sensation. “Photographs have this special quality – like a filter – that allows us to objectively view things in new light that we may have gotten used to seeing,” said Yoshida in an interview. And it was around this time that he started taking periodic trips up to see the couple and photograph them.
“Images of the two holding hands while shopping in the supermarket, seeing one another off when one went out, watching until the other is out of sight, eating and sleeping together” – Yoshida decided that he would document this relationship until the grandmother passed away: an end that didn’t seem too far away. But fate would have different plans for the cousin, the grandmother and Yoshida’s photo-documentation.
One day in 2014 the cousin disappeared. There were no signs and no explanations. Calls and emails wouldn’t go through. Friends hadn’t seen him. For a whole year the grandmother, often by the window , waited for his return. Then one day they received a phone call. The cousin’s body had been found. He had taken his own life. He was 23 at the time.
The grandmother was devastated and, one year later, as if chasing after her grandson, she quietly passed away.
Yoshida underwent an internal struggle over whether or not to release the photographs. The cousin and grandmother enjoyed being photographed, and had given Yoshida permission to enter and document their lives, but now things had changed. In the end, Yoshida decided to move forward with the project and open up a dialogue with his photographs, which “gently shows us the irreplaceable warmth of everyday life that, although now gone, certainly existed.” Yoshida’s work is also a testament to the possibilities and limitations of photography. It’s a poignant reminder of what the lens captures, and what it doesn’t.
In the summer of 2017, Falling Leaves will be released as a self-published photobook in a limited edition of 111, the same number as the total number of years that his cousin and grandmother lived. The photographs are also on view at KyotoGraphie, the international photography festival that’s going on in Kyoto through May 14th, 2017. Yoshida will be speaking about his work on May 13th from 11:00 – 12:00.