Last night was the launch of Yasumasa Yonehara’s photo exhibit at the Barry Friedman gallery down in Chelsea. Mr. Yonehara was on hand to meet and greet and was also signing copies of his book of photos, Tokyo Amour.
Tons of hipsters and creepy men came to show their support (most of whom were my friends – the creepy old men, not the hipsters.) The installation was prurient and voyeuristic, but incredibly playful and sincere with some girls exhibiting a sexuality that somehow mirrored purity. The energy in the gallery reeked of intimacy and a palpable anticipation as cameras were whipped out to take photos of the girls in the photos. Naturally, I joined in:
“I don’t tell them what to do.” Mr. Yonehara said of his subjects when I met him. “I tell them to be natural. I tell them ‘do whatever you want.’ They choose the pose.”
Interestingly, most of the girls posed in the same or similar fashion. I asked if the girls were models or pros, and Yonehara-san said that some were former models, some were porn stars, but some were ordinary girls. “I want to show the reactions of the girls, their personality, their cute, sexy, beauty.”
Cute and sexy does not tend to go over well in this country – especially if the “cute” is in a girlish sense and the “sexy” is in an undressed sense. So I asked Mr. Yonehara to explain the “cute-sexy” phenomenon in Japan. “In Japan, we have a feeling, a shy, embarrassed feeling. So, if we become totally sexy, there is a shy part. Those shy parts become cute. The shy parts, for the generation in their 20’s, they want to show it off. Sexy+cute is key for girls in their teens and 20’s. I want to help that feeling to come out. Because they’re beautiful.”
Mr. Yonehara outside the Red Room. The Red Room is essentially a room lit in redlight and wallpapered with close-up shots of naked female torsoes. But Yonehara-san took most of his photos for this exhibit with a Japanese instant camera, Cheki, much like an American Poloroid:
The idea is to capture the girls on film right at that moment – to neither edit nor doctor the film – and capture/create a feeling of immediacy and affection.
Many happy men at the show including Rich Hahn who I met at MoCCA a few years ago and does LumaKick
Rich almost didn’t make it to the exhibit last night. But I’m pretty sure that he’s happy he did.
Lisa Chen, who’s book of poetry, Mouth, was published last February by KAYA, was also in attendance to make this astute observation about the show: “It kinda makes you wanna get an Asian girlfriend.”
John Nee, who I wrangled into coming, agreed: “Yes, it does.”
Meanwhile, I hung out in the Red Room with my friend Mark, who kept it cool:
and took photos of me documenting the evening.
Here I am with Rika and Mr. Yonehara.
Mark gets a photo of me in the Red Room. I actually wanted to stand by the wall papered with ass-shots, but Mark kept telling me “This is good! This is good!”
Mark’s favorite girl. If you look up his flickr page, he’s got two different shots of this same exact image. But in keeping with theme of plurality in the show, one is never enough.
The evening proved inspirational as the crowd ballooned with curious spectators. By the end of the night, I overheard one man express his enthusiasm for Yonehara: “This guy’s my hero. I wanna do this.”
Many thanks to Rika for inviting me to the show, introducing me to Mr. Yonehara and translating our conversation! Is there anything Ms. Rika cannot do? And to Mr. Yonehara for taking my questions despite a number of friends urgently pulling at his sleeves for a tour of his work.
The show will be up at Barry Friedman until December 20th – the day before my birthday! – so check it out and feel the warmth.