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Interview|Tomoka Aya 

As part of the HARIBAN AWARD 2024 programme, we interviewed one of this year’s Juror Tomoka Aya, The Third Gallery Aya, gallery owner and director

How did you first get into photography and start your gallery?

Tomoka Aya (TA)When I was in high school, I read an article about Sam Wagstaff, a collector and curator, in the magazine Ryuko Tsushin. I also went to several photo exhibitions held by PPS and other places, which were really amazing. Since then, I became interested in photography and joined the photography club at my university. After I graduated, I started working for a company but I felt suffocated working for an organization. For the first time, I strongly felt that I wanted to work in the photography field. 

Later on, I was working part-time and later full-time for the non-profit organization Osaka International Center for Photography. The center had a gallery called the Brain Center, but the gallery was closing and I was asked if I would like to take over the gallery and start my own business. I decided to go for it.



Since your gallery opened in 1996, photography has changed a lot — not just in terms of technique but also in how it fits into the world of art. How do you see all these as a gallerist in the middle of all these changes?

TA:  From the very beginning, I wanted to stand out from other gallerists by focusing on the unique characteristics of the gallery and by being conscious that I was doing this in Osaka as a female gallerist. It was when I was told that it would be impossible to run a gallery without going to Tokyo. I wanted to be independent and do what I love staying in where I live, so I always thought about what I should do to achieve that.
I looked at the situation then and saw that there weren’t many female photographers. I decided to focus on that to differentiate my gallery from the others. Specifically, the gallery started handling Yamazawa Eiko’s work. I wanted to introduce women photographers from Japan and overseas, so I held two exhibitions I wanted to the most: Ishiuchi Miyako and Jo Spence.

In 1989, the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography (now Tokyo Photographic Art Museum) opened as an art museum specializing in photography. The Film Center at the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo and the Photography Section at the Yokohama Museum of Art were also established around that time. It was wonderful that my gallery started at a time when it was common for art museums to hold photography exhibitions. We had the prospect of doing well if we built our achievements on those foundations. 

Globalization brought about by the Internet was also a big factor. Art fairs that began to emerge in the 1990s expanded because of that, and I was not just paying attention to Japan but also the countries overseas. I thought about introducing Japanese photographers’ work to museums and art fairs overseas, both for exhibitions and collections. I have always been thinking about possibilities both inside and outside of Japan, including the markets. 

Exhibition view / Kenshichi Heshiki, 2024 ©Kiyotoshi Takashima


Tell us about your gallery’s “824” project that supports young artists as well as the series of lectures you hold at the gallery ― why did you start them and what are your future plans?

TA:  I started the gallery in my 30s, so I worked with a lot of artists of my generation or those who are younger than me. It was natural for me to support younger artists and I enjoyed doing it. One of the roles of the gallery was to work with photographers of the same generation while sharing the same era. Over the past 25 years of career, my role has gradually changed. 

Similarly the lectures came from my desire to work with researchers and curators from the same era. I also simply wanted to gain new knowledge and information. Now we will do less extensive work, such as putting together a series of lectures, but we want to continue holding these lectures in conjunction with exhibitions.


Exhibition view / Ishiuchi Miyako, 2005 ©TheThirdGalleryAya

You have been actively exhibiting at art fairs in and out of Japan. Have there been any big changes over the past few years since the coronavirus pandemic?

TA:  Photo Miami 2007 was our first participation in an international fair. It was 10 years after I started the gallery ― the number of art fairs increased and the situation changed significantly. The Japanese market was not expanding any further, so I felt it was essential to participate in international fairs. It was a different challenge than doing our work in Japan, but I saw it as a situation where galleries had no choice but to do so under globalization. It went on for almost 20 years until it came to a halt during the pandemic. It was a big change, and I wondered what would happen, but I feel that things are gradually returning to their original state starting this year. 

I feel that we have to consider the photography market not only in Japan but also overseas. However, it’s expensive to do our work overseas now because the yen has weakened and prices have risen.


Paris Photo, 2018 ©TheThirdGalleryAya


The Grand Prize Winner of the Hariban Award will work with the craftspeople in Kyoto to finish their artwork. What kind of inspiration do you expect the artists will have?

TA:   There are many different printing methods, but I hope that more people can learn about collotype since it is such a high-quality printing technique. The texture and balance with the paper that can only be achieved with collotype is the best kind of firsthand experience one can have. This will be a good opportunity to think about the quality that is essential to one’s artwork. 

Do you have any comments for artists who are considering applying for this award?

TA:   I would highly recommend you try making prints using the collotype technique. It will help you expand the possibilities of your work, and the experience of working together with the craftspeople will make a great impact on your creation process. 

Tomoka Aya 

The Third Gallery Aya, gallery owner and director

Tomoka Aya was born and based in Osaka, Japan. She founded the Third Gallery Aya in 1996, which celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2021. She has organised exhibitions by Ishiuchi Miyako, Yamazawa Eiko, Okanoue Yoshiko, Imai Hisae, Kodama Fusako, Jo Spence, Heshiki Kenshichi, Gocho Shigeo, Abe Jun, Narahashi Asako, Watanabe Koichi, Kakimoto Hiromi, Higashionna Yuichi, Inagaki Tomoko and others. Aya works with photography and contemporary art ― she introduces artists’ works in and out of Japan by  participating in Paris Photo, the world’s largest photography art fair, and Art Basel, the world’s largest contemporary art fair.

HARIBAN AWARD 2024 の審査員インタビューでは、The Third Gallery Ayaのオーナーであり、ディレクターの綾 智佳さんにインタビューをおこないました。










展示風景:平敷兼七展、2024年 ©Kiyotoshi Takashima


The Third Gallery Ayaでは、若手支援プロジェクト「824」やシリーズ・レクチャーを企画されています。一般に向けた、”写真”を理解するための大きく弧を描くような取り組みだと感じます。始められた背景や今後の展望を教えてください。




展示風景:石内都展、2005年 ©TheThirdGalleryAya





出展風景:Paris Photo、2018年 ©TheThirdGalleryAya


HARIBAN AWARDは、最優秀賞を受賞すると京都に来て職人とコラボレーションをしコロタイプ作品を仕上げます。作家にどのようなインスピレーションを与えると期待しますか?



最後に、HARIBAN AWARD 2024に応募を考えている作家へメッセージをお願いします。



綾 智佳 

The Third Gallery Aya オーナー、ディレクター

大阪生まれ。 1996年The Third Gallery Aya 設立、2021年で25周年を迎えた。石内都、山沢栄子、岡上淑子、今井壽恵、児玉房子、ジョー・スペンス、平敷兼七、牛腸茂雄、阿部淳、楢橋朝子、渡邊耕一、垣本泰美、東恩納裕一、稲垣智子などの展覧会を開催。写真及び現代美術を取扱う。Paris PhotoやArt Baselにも参加し、日本だけでなく作品を紹介している。