Japanese photographer Yuki Aoyama is best known for his ‘Schoolgirl Complex’ series – pictures of uniformed girls taken from the perspective of a teenage boy. Like much of his photography, it focuses on teenage schoolgirls as an icons of everyday Japan.
And Aoyama’s latest project took him abroad to a country that loves school uniforms almost as much as Japan does: Taiwan, where he shot these arresting, curious portraits, which at once draw on his earlier work, and move subtly away from it.
It’s no surprise that Aoyama’s self-confessed schoolgirl obsession would take him to Taiwan on a photographic mission: this is the country with that interactive map of schoolgirl uniforms in different areas, and an annual vote to choose the nation’s favourite schoolgirl outfit.
The result of the trip was the new project ‘Taiwan Kawaii School Girl’, which was shot with 16 young female models. And its central concept – the fetishisation of adolescent girls in uniform – will be objectionable to some. There’s no nudity or sexual content here, but there is a powerful intimacy to the photos.
The Japanese language borrows the word “complex” from English, but uses it specifically to refer to an inferiority complex. When Aoyama makes art exploring his self-declared “schoolgirl complex”, therefore, it is from a standpoint of male inadequacy. As a teenager, he says, he was simultaneously obsessed with and afraid of girls:
“Even when they’re all wearing the same uniform, you can still see girls’ individual personalities. When I was growing up, I was obsessed with and fascinated by that. And at the same time, being inexperienced, I held girls in such terror.”
Aoyama’s earlier book Schoolgirl Complex gave us faceless photos showing isolated body parts such as the zettai ryouiki (“absolute territory”) of the upper thighs. In this new work, however, the girls have a gaze of their own, and stare back at him.
▼ From ‘Schoolgirl Complex’
▼ From ‘Taiwan Kawaii School Girl‘
That’s not to say that the zettai ryouiki is going unnoticed in the new book, though.
Aoyama’s work is sure to find fans in Taiwan, where his work is already popular. But it isn’t for everybody – some will find it unacceptable for a grown man to be obsessing over young girls’ bodies in this way. Explaining how the new book, which is released December 10, differs from his previous work, Aoyama said:
“In ‘Taiwan Kawaii’, I have – and this is rare for me – composed photos with the emphasis on the girls’ little habits and expressions; that is to say, their faces are pictured. So I think these photos can be enjoyed by anyone. And it’s fun in the winter to think of the burning heat of adolescent feeling, don’t you think?”
An exhibition of photographs from the book is now on at Wada Garou Tokyo, until Saturday December 20th. The book ‘Taiwan Kawaii School Girl’ is available from December 10, priced at 2,160 yen (US$18.12).