DPP Home Profiles Maki Kawakita - Tokyo Kabuki-Pop!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Maki Kawakita - Tokyo Kabuki-Pop!

Maki Kawakita's dynamic images are high concept and high fashion. Her rapid rise in photography stems from bold originality and boundless imagination.

Speed Of Ascent

Kawakita's rise in photography has been meteoric and she's moving ahead full bore. “My first photo shoot was a black-and-white documentary in Paraguay in 1997 for a photography class I took in Japan,” Kawakita explains. “Since then, I can't live without my camera. I didn't really plan out how to be a photographer until after I moved to the United States in 1999.”

Attending classes at the prestigious Rochester Institute of Technology, she started taking the prospect of a career seriously and began putting her work in front of as many eyes as possible. She finally got an assignment for the Japanese magazine F.O. That 10-page fashion editorial story (featuring Kawakita's surreal images of life-size Barbie dolls) ultimately landed on the cover. The rest, as they say, is history.

Kawakita now works for big-name clients, both in the United States and Japan. Companies such as Tower Records, Def Jam and Sony Music, and performers from Ashanti to Beyoncé, seek out her invigorating photographic style. It's a look that has been compared to the current king of kink, David LaChapelle. Kawakita says the correlation is fair because they seem to share many of the same visual influences, although she's quick to point out the twists that make her work her own.

“David LaChapelle is a very talented photographer who obviously has been greatly influenced by pop art,” she says. “In that way, we have the same taste. My favorite artist is Andy Warhol; photographers I admire are Helmut Newton and Guy Bourdin. All of them have the quirkiness, irony and artificiality that my photography has, but I feel that the difference is my personal experience and the culture I grew up in: the Tokyo Kabuki-Pop world.”

The artificiality of Kawakita's work is essentially cartoonish. It combines her early life in what she calls the “hyper-real world” of Tokyo pop culture with the traditional elements of Kabuki theater and ikebana (traditional Japanese flower arrangement) instilled in her by her family. The result is a vivid portfolio in which every image seems to be about a performance—both in the appearance of the subjects and in the way she creates the images.

“My mother is a Kabuki-like dance performer,” Kawakita says. “I was exposed to this part of my culture at a very early age and I started dancing just about when I started walking. At the age of three, I was on stage performing. Today, I dance through the lens. I'm a cartoonist on film. Everything I do is performance. I may not be the one to pose, but I rehearse the photo shoot over and over, choreograph my emotions and thoughts, get the stuff together and have a show.”


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