Mao Ishikawa

Photographing from Okinawa

Photographer Mao Ishikawa has documented her native Okinawa and the lives of its people for some 50 years now. In 1974, after studying with Shomei Tomatsu at his Workshop Photography School in Tokyo, she returned to Okinawa to work at a pineapple factory in order to research and photograph the foreign workers there. Since then, she has gone on to produce projects on figures ranging from the hostesses at bars that cater to American GIs to US military and Japanese Self-Defense Force personnel, dockworkers, fishermen, and mixed-race people. Throughout, Ishikawa has maintained an approach that is rooted in the local community and celebrates the humanity of the people she photographs. She is currently the subject of a retrospective at the Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery, her first at a museum in Tokyo. In this talk, she reflects on her career spanning from the 1970s to the present.

*Certain words, phrases, and expressions described in this talk are directly drawn from those used in the respective age.

Photo courtesy of nap gallery
Subtitle translation: Daisuke Sato
Video Production: Ney-Anton G.K.


Mao Ishikawa was born in 1953 in Ogimi, Okinawa Prefecture, and lives and works in Okinawa. She has exhibited her photographs extensively at Japanese and international venues. Her work is held in numerous public collections, including the Okinawa Prefectural Museum & Art Museum; the Tokyo Photographic Art Museum; the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum; the Yokohama Museum of Art; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. In 2011 she received the Sagamihara Photography Award for her project Fences, Okinawa and in 2019 she was recognized as Artist of the Year by the Photographic Society of Japan.

Photo by Kiyuna Itsuro