Ah the life of a “salaryman” (that’s Japanese-made English for “office worker”). Get up early, commute for an hour, work all day, continue into unpaid overtime, be forced to go out for late night drinks with your boss, drag yourself home, and do it all again the next day. These workaholics need some way to relieve their stress and you’d be hard pressed to find a more creative stress-relieving technique than flying through the air.
Presenting Flying Has Changed My Life – Solaryman, a strange compilation of photographs featuring salarymen flying throughout Japan.
This photo collection was created by Yuki Aoyama and goes on sale on December 12 for 1260 yen (US $15.33). The title of the book is a combination of the word “sola,” meaning “sky” and the word for office worker, “salaryman.” It is the second installment of Aoyama’s photo books featuring flying salarymen, but this time, suit-wearing office workers aren’t the only featured models; Aoyama has decided to include men of other working occupations as well.
Yuki Aoyama answers a few questions about Solaryman in an interview with Excite News Japan:
What was your motive for starting the Solaryman project?
Ever since I started taking pictures back in 1998, I wanted to photograph the people around me flying. My father, who died in 2006, worked as an office worker for over thirty years. I only knew him as a kind, but lazy man. But despite his lack of zeal at home, once my father put on his business suit and went off to work, he turned into a person who was adored by everyone and displayed a can-do attitude.
While at my father’s funeral, I listened to his colleagues talk about the great times they enjoyed with my father, but I couldn’t believe they were describing the man I saw every day. Most of all, I was shocked at the gap between an officer worker’s home and work life.
Forty-nine days later, when we held a traditional Buddhist memorial service for my father, I became obsessed with the idea of flying salarymen.
This time, why did you decide to photograph salarymen from all over Japan?
After the Tohoku earthquake last year, I put my photography project on hold, but continued to upload photos of flying salarymen that I had already taken to Twitter and other Internet sites. My photos were reblogged and shared thousands of times and gained a lot of buzz all over the Internet. At the same time, Japan was facing hard times after the earthquake, its people at a standstill. I thought maybe if people saw my photos of energetic office workers, happily flying through the air, it would lift everyone’s spirits and inspire the people of Japan to persevere through a difficult time. Many people were starting to notice the fun atmosphere of my photos and the different places the pictures were taken and I thought it was something that could help cheer up the people of Japan even just a little. That’s why I thought it would be best to travel around Japan to take photos for this project.
While you were photographing for your collection, did you come across any particularly memorable salarymen?
When I returned to my hometown in Nagoya for the seventh anniversary of my father’s death, I was able to photograph my father’s best friend, Mr. Nakayama. The most memorable photo for me was taken immediately after visiting my father’s grave, but Mr. Nakayama jumped with such enthusiasm and energy that he lifted my spirits. It was as if he was saying, “Your father would want you to continue what you want to do.”
When did you have the most fun and enjoyed working on the project? Did you face any setbacks or difficulties?
Because I wanted to photograph normal people in everyday life, it was surprisingly difficult to find people to photograph. But when it came to actually photographing the office workers, there weren’t any problems. I left it up to each person to choose what kind of jump they wanted to do, so there was very little for me to do in terms of directing the models. I was always excited to see what kind of jump each office worker would choose. There’s no way I could have instructed Mr. Yoshizawa (see the photo below) to jump like that.
To me, this was just one of thousands of photographing projects I’ve taken on, but to everyone else, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity that would turn into a lasting memory. With that in mind, the workers I photographed earnestly tried their best while having their picture taken.
Your photography exhibition is now open and includes photographs of the flying salarymen as well as photos of schoolgirls taken during your previous photography project. Do you mind sharing why you chose to display these two subjects together in the exhibition?
Many people probably think it’s strange to put high school girls and middle-aged office workers in the same photo gallery, but actually, they both represent a symbolic presence in Japanese society. Office workers are always seen wearing the same suit and tie, but with the Solaryman project, the moment each person jumps, a unique shape and appearance is brought out from this symbolic group. On the other hand, with the schoolgirl project, I wanted to hide each girl’s face, effectively taking away her uniqueness while dressed in uniform, transforming her into a symbolic representation of a high school girl. If either group were walking on the street, it would be a common occurrence, but by simply jumping, a salaryman is transformed from “symbol to individual” and by hiding the faces of the schoolgirls, they are transformed from “individual to symbol.” With this exhibition, I wanted to clearly display the contrast between “symbol” and “individual.”
Yuki Aoyama’s exhibition “Symbolic <- ->Individualistic” is located at the Wada Gallery in Tokyo. You can check out his meaningful photographs featuring salarymen and schoolgirls until December 23.