FEATURE | SOPHIE MIYA SMITH
The Seijaku collection was photographed by Sophie during lockdown in the form of self-portraits. We asked her a few questions so we could share more about this incredible artist behind and in front of the camera.
1) We would love to learn more about you and your story. Could you tell us a little about your background and the journey that led you to photography, creative design and motion production?
I got into photography as a teenager, picking up my first camera at 13 (and haven't really put it down since). But I ended up going to design school with the intention to focus on photography within design. However, I ended up majoring in graphic design and doing a minor in film. So it's always been this triangle that I've dabbled between the three as they all work hand in hand. Eventually, I made the decision to go back to where it all began and just specialise in photography as I realised it's the entire process that I love from beginning to end.
2) You photographed our latest collection as a self-portrait during lock down. Could you tell us more about the process behind your self-isolation self-portraits?
It was a week into lock down where I was really craving photographing portraits, but couldn't exactly execute it. And I needed something to keep the creative juices flowing - so I thought why not just do it all myself? It was challenging, in fact it was actually really frustrating most of the time. You're basically adding an extra element in there that you usually wouldn't be a part of - being the subject. And running back and forward to change up the lighting / props then back in front of the camera etc cuts into so much time! And then of course naturally being even more critical of the outcome. I definitely prefer to stay behind the camera to say the least haha. But hey it gave me something to keep me on my toes during lock down and ended up developing into a wider piece of work.
3) How do you draw on your Japanese background for inspiration and creativity?
I think there is a uniqueness to it in the sense that there is a cultural combination of tradition and modernity that intertwine seamlessly. And I like the idea of experimenting with the two juxtapositions. Tokyo is a city that's built on this, and I make an effort to spend time there whenever I am visiting Japan.
4) Historically, tattoos in Japan were used to mark people who belonged to gangs and remnants of this widespread belief still exists in various parts of Japan. Although Japan has gradually become more open to tattoos in recent years, I think it's fair to say that negative perception is still there.
Being half-Japanese, could you tell us a little bit more about having tattoos? Did this cultural belief create any doubt when making your decision to get tattoos?
I remember as a child being told not to ever get any. Ironically my first two tattoo's were homage to my Japanese heritage. My mum sobbed the first time she saw one, because of the stigma around it (and she hasn't even seen them all, sorry mum!). But I think she was more worried about what people would think of me back in Japan (whenever she spots a new one she just rolls her eyes now). But her initial reaction did stop me from getting any for a while (not that I even have that many). I still have a tendency to cover up my tattoo's while I'm in Japan - most public pools in Japan won't even allow you to go swimming if you have any. My extended family in Japan certainly don't know that I have them. It's not that I'm ashamed of them personally, but I know that they would be extremely disappointed as someone who is Japanese, and I think also being female (as it does traditionally link back to being gang / yakuza associated). Whereas if I wasn't Japanese then I wouldn't even think twice about covering them, and I don't think the Japanese blink twice about westerners having tattoos. I do think the perception is starting to shift as the newer generations are becoming more interested in them again, and hopefully people are slowly recognising it as an art form again.
5) For us, being raised by parents with different backgrounds and sometimes conflicting values offered us a nuanced view on the world. What would you say is the biggest advantage and disadvantage of being 'hafu'?
There have definitely been times where I feel a bit lost in limbo with my identity. I'm first generation Kiwi (my mother is from Japan and my dad is of British descent, having moved here from Malawi as a child). But I know far more about my Japanese heritage (my family can trace back up to 800 years of our lineage), thus feel very rooted in it. Yet when I go to Japan I'm not really considered Japanese, because I look more western and perhaps some of the way I behave is also more western due to the majority of my upbringing here in New Zealand. When people learn in Japan that I'm actually half Japanese then the response tends to be more positive, but this is probably because I can speak the language which helps a lot. However, being automatically categorised as 'hafu' also definitely comes with its negative conceptions.
I feel like the easiest way to put it is kind of like being the equivalent of being a 'mudblood' in Harry Potter - you're not quite full. I remember seeing on a Japanese modeling website once that there were categories for 'Men, Women & Hafu', which I thought was so bizarre. As much as I love the motherland, these aspects make me feel very fortunate to be raised in a place like New Zealand where there are a melting pot of cultures and ethnicity here.
Sophie is a multidisciplinary creative specialising in photography, graphic design and motion production. She is currently working as a photographer at Design Works Ltd in Auckland. Find our more about Sophie at; https://www.instagram.com/sophiemiyasmith/