Speaking to Arthur Tam, the Japan-born, New York-based photographer reflects on her past and its relationship to the current Asian American struggle
This shoot appears in the Autumn/Winter 2021 issue of AnOther Magazine.
“Everyone goes through this beautiful time in their youth,” says photographer Fumi Nagasaka reminiscing about the time when she left Japan for New York City in 2002. “I was young, naïve and just excited to explore the underground party scene, go to CBGB, listen to music I’ve never heard before, have fun and meet punk kids. So, I shaved my head, wanting to be like them.”
Nagasaka is a rebel at heart, defying convention and unwilling to adhere to rules for rules sake. So, New York City was the ideal irreverent city for her to explore her passion for photography while gaining insight into youth and street culture. “Had I stayed in Japan, I would have had to go to a photography school and take up an apprenticeship under someone for ten years without ever being able to speak up. I didn't agree with those rules. I didn’t want to listen to older people. Here, it doesn’t matter as long you’re talented.”
Nagasaka did what all young creative upstarts do when they first come to the big city. She scrounged up what little resources she had, put herself out there in the scene and hoped for the best with only her camera and instinct for capturing stylish folks. Now, she has published books, worked on major fashion editorials, won awards and has exhibited worldwide with a body of work that reveals the human condition through sensitivity and a quiet intensity often accented by a glimmer of pure joy. Her images are uncluttered and bring out the natural beauty of her subjects, reflecting the fleeting moments in her youth. “It’s something you can’t hold onto for long,” she says. “Youth is so pure and naïve. When you’re young and heartbroken, it feels like the end of the world, and that's beautiful.”
For her latest editorial feature, These Days, Nagasaka is again reflecting on her past and its relationship to the current Asian American struggle for recognition, respect and protection in the face of the ongoing uptick in anti-Asian hate crimes. “This project is a celebration of the Asian community in New York,” says Nagasaka. “The whole anti-Asian hate movement and activism opened up a platform for our voices and brought us out of the shadows. That inspired me.”
Nagasaka recalls her own experiences with microaggressions when she first moved to the US. Stylists didn’t know what to do with her because of “[my] high cheekbones and long, thick hair. It made me feel so insecure that I just stopped talking about makeup with friends because nothing seemed to fit me,” she says. “So for this shoot, not only are all the models Asian, but the beauty team is all Asian. I wanted to collaborate with people who know Asian beauty best.”
The shoot takes place at a classic, abandoned brownstone in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn. ”The story is about Asians in America, so I wanted the location to reflect a sense of American timelessness and create a sense of belonging,” said Nagasaka. The series of images depicts a diverse cross-section of Asian models embracing intimacy and vulnerability. It’s like getting a glimpse into the lives of a group of young friends trying to navigate their way through the trials of city life. But no matter the challenges, at least they have a home to share together. “Just hang out and pretend this your house, your space – be yourself. You’re already beautiful I told them. They should be proud of who they are,” says Nagasaka.
Hair: Tsuki at Streeters using BUMBLE AND BUMBLE. Make-up: Kuma using NARS. Models: Nasana Banepali at Dora Project, Wenhao Hu at Crawford Models, Joyce Keokham at Anti-Agency, Wonhee Lee, Jiashan Liu at Identity, Hop Nguyen at Offshore, Kei Tsuruta at Ricky Michiels, Jaychelle Yamanoha at Supreme and Zi Yi at Barbara Pfister Casting. Casting: Barbara Pfister. Casting assistant: Ti Nguyen. Set design: Lian Calvo Serrano at We Are the Valiants. Photographic assistants: Justin Mulroy and Ben Kasun. Styling assistant: Sebastian Acero. Hair assistant: Kazu Katahira. Make-up assistant: Wakana Ichikawa. Production: Dirty Pretty Productions
This shoot originally featured in the Autumn/Winter 2021 issue of AnOther Magazine which is on sale now. Head here to purchase a copy.