Japanese Beauty is Hiromix’s 1997 collection of work with a group of young Japanese models of the time. If you’re lucky enough to find a copy with the belly band, don’t get excited by the “21” on it… this is not an advisory, age limit sort of thing. Nope. Hiromix photographed 21 models for the project. Apologies if you got your hopes up…
The 21 models include Miwako Ichikawa, Mikako Ichikawa, Koyuki, Ayumi Tanabe, ARATA, Megumi Furuya, Nobuko Tanaka, Akari Shimizu, Manabu, Nanae Takahashi, FHIFAN, Shiho Ochiai, Yayoi, Yu Fujimoto, Hidetoshi Homma, Yoko Sekikawa, Himemi Tokuda, Kana, Anji, KIRI, and Takao Tsuno. Some or all of these were maybe at one point regularly featured in fashion and Teen Beat sorts of advertisements and magazines.
At first, I thought the book featured Hiromix’s work from these magazines, like maybe these were images she made for Japanese Tiger Beat or Big! or whatever. But after aiming the Google Translate app at some of the text—the whole book is in Japanese—I realized Japanese Beauty was something else, and, really, it’s something rather interesting and masterful, I think.
Take yourself back, if you can, to the mid 1990s, and imagine opening up a copy of Teen Vogue. I turned 12 in 1990 (and, therefore, 22 in 2000) and I can only imagine, since I never bought or looked at a copy of any of the numerous teen magazines of the day. In the early part of the decade, I was on Mad; in the latter part of the decade I moved on to a more adult sort of magazine, and may Allah forgive my youthful ignorance. Anyway. If the teen magazines were anything like the adult magazines I “read,” I imagine there were profiles of models and actors and musicians and all, with images and some brief comments around the subject’s favorite color, hobbies, etc. And that’s what Hiromix gives us in Japanese Beauty, 21 times, without the advertisements and articles, and also (sadly?) without the centerfolds.
Each group of pictures opens with the model’s (or, in a few cases, models’) name and ends with a set of statements: memories of photoshoots, favorite perfumes and foods, and etc. (if the Google Translate app can be believed). Each model appears in one setting: outdoors or indoors; mostly clothed and always sufficiently covered; in head-and-shoulders and/or full body poses; in single images per page or two-page spreads. The photos are all well done, with Hiromix’s usual mastery of color and offhanded framing. One image in particular has perhaps the best use of lens flare I’ve ever seen. It shows an incredible knowledge of the camera (or some incredible luck).
The image on the left is just amazing, and the spread there works so well. Hiromix certainly knew her tools, and I wonder if she continued using the Big Mini throughout. The flare and distortions look like an inexpensive, wide-angle, plastic-lensed camera anyway.
Now. Given that Hiromix worked with professional models for essentially the first time (for a photobook, anyway,) the images are quite different than those in Girls Blue and the Steidl book; the diaristic aspect is entirely absent: there are no photographs of food or city streets at night or interiors. This fact alone puts Japanese Beauty low on my ranking of Hiromix books. That said, it’s still excellent and I’m thrilled and privileged to have it in my collection.
Japanese Beauty is only available used and prices are reasonable. It’s not Hiromix’s best work, imo: for that, see the Steidl book (or Girls Blue), but it’s really pretty good and worth checking out.