Bejeweled baby binkys, Victorian pendants, Mickey Mouse ears, bondage-like mouthpieces and antlers are just some of the compelling details in Yoichi Nagata’s brilliantly colored photographs of outlandish Tokyo club-goers at the new exhibition at S. Carmody photography in Maplewood. The selection of photographs, chosen from over 600 images that Nagata has taken over the past five years, capture the diversity of style and theme in which the clubbers enthusiastically dress. But, Nagata also recognizes how the phenomenon of eccentric and over-the-top costuming is not solely a contemporary phenomenon, but speaks to a larger cultural heritage relating to luck, rebellion, and amity.
All of the photographs have a stark black background, and capture the clubbers frontally from the top of their head (or headpiece, consisting of bows, rabbit ears, massive hair extensions, and the like) to their knees, to show as much of their outfit as possible. Nagata uses two layering techniques: some blurring, and then solarisation, which reverses the light and dark tones. The effect is contrasting areas of crisp, bright color with blurred, translucent areas of skin or clothing, highlighting obvious areas of interest, but keeping viewers searching for more.
The clubbers are never shown in action, never dancing or with their hands in the air – they are posed, willing, and ready for their photograph to be taken in an almost formal way that gives a sense of dignity and seriousness to what otherwise might be seen as child’s play. Whatever their chosen style, whether Western-inspired fetish or home-grown gothic Lolita, Nagata has stated that he sees the clubbers as modern versions of Japanese social rebels known as basara or kabukimono who often displayed daring clothing and attitudes during times of upcoming social change. But his subjects, he says, are kind to one another, respecting and complimenting each other on their chosen outfits. With all of their brightly colored clothing, traditionally accepted in Japanese culture as a way to beckon good luck from the spirits, Nagata suggests that the clubbers of the twenty-first century could even be seen as shamans, “channeling the gods and spirits of this megalopolis…to bring supernatural blessing upon Tokyo, now in the fast-dwindling last days of our fossil-fuel-based civilization.”
Common post-modern themes of mass culture, consumerism, and nostalgia are at play in Nagata’s photographs, as are the obvious forays into commentary on feminine visual culture and the startling presrence of infantilization. But, what is uncommon is the satisfying combination of literal and thematic layers of meaning that the images hold, in regard to photography, Japanese history, and what it takes to look normal in the Tokyo nightclub district.
Yoichi Nagata: Star of the Stars continues at S. Carmody Photography on 2707 Sutton Blvd, Maplewood, MO 63143 until 11 December 2011.