Harvey Benge

Tokyo Girl Number 3, 2005

2005
pigment inkjet print, edition 1/5
750mm x 500mm

signed Harvey Benge and inscribed Tokyo 2005 in indian ink verso

Provenance

Private collection, Auckland.

Literature

Harvey Benge, You Are Here (Cologne: Schaden.com, 2006), u. p.

Essay

Harvey Benge’s Tokyo Girls series is part of the artist’s ongoing street photography practice. Benge produced a series of images of women in Tokyo’s Harajuku dist...

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Estimate $3,500 - $5,500

Harvey Benge

Tokyo Girl Number 3, 2005

2005

pigment inkjet print, edition 1/5

signed Harvey Benge and inscribed Tokyo 2005 in indian ink verso

750mm x 500mm

Auction N˚5

Estimate $3,500 - $5,500

Footnotes

1.   “Japanese Shironuri ‘White Face Monster Party’ in Harajuku – Pics & Video,” Tokyofashion.com, accessed March 9, 2017, http://tokyofashion.com/japanese-shironuri-harajuku-pics-video/

2.   “SHIRONURI fashion and ANGURA culture,” POPKakumei, accessed March 9, 2017, http://pop-kakumei.blogspot.co.nz/2013/02/shironuri-fashion-and-angura-culture_3.html

3.   “’White Face Monster Party’ in Harajuku”

Tokyo Girls

by Andrew Clark

Harvey Benge’s Tokyo Girls series is part of the artist’s ongoing street photography practice. Benge produced a series of images of women in Tokyo’s Harajuku district, known for its status as a hub of Japanese street fashion, which is composed of a seemingly endless number of constantly shifting styles and sub-styles. The woman depicted in Tokyo Girl 3 has her face made up in the shironuri (painted white) style, which is derived from the pale makeup historically worn by geisha and actors in traditional Japanese theatre.1

The shironuri look can also incorporate elements of other niche Japanese fashion trends, such as “lolita” fashion, cyberpunk, and “visual kei” (think ‘80s glam on steroids), but the common factor which sets a shironuri apart is their white-painted, ghostly face.In the past, shironuri style has included the wearing of military uniforms, as seen in Benge’s other photos, and the display of World War Two-era Japanese flags and iconography as a transgressive act, not dissimilar to the use of Nazi imagery as a shock tactic by biker gangs from the 1960s onwards.

Unlike the more common gyaru (“gal”) fashions worn around Harajuku, shironuri is an outlier or underground style, not a commonly worn street fashion.3 Like goths in the West, wearers of shironuri are consciously setting themselves apart, advertising their allegiance to a subculture whose values and priorities do not necessarily line up with those of society as a whole. All fashion is to some extent a performance of identity, but in the case of an extreme look such as shironuri, clothing and makeup can become, instead, costume and mask, accoutrements which completely transform the wearer into a wholly artificial being.

Tokyo Girl 3 wears a bald wig that matches her powdered face, with crimson hair extensions attached, accentuated by her dark, almost black, eyeshadow and lipstick. Her clothes—black latex gloves and lace bodice—place her somewhere between goth and fetishist. Overall, her appearance is reminiscent of the corpselike demons who inhabit the 1987 Clive Barker horror film Hellraiser. Benge’s camera captures her posing to show her carefully constructed outfit to best effect, mouth open and eyes closed in an expression which is at once ghoulish and alluring. The wallet she clutches, with a subway ticket or identification card protruding, is the one indication that this is a street scene, and that after the photo was taken, the woman did not disappear into some crypt, space craft or netherworld, but instead walked off into a contemporary cityscape.

The Tokyo Girls series fits into Benge’s broader exploration of the possibilities of travel as a catalyst for photographic “seeing.” By becoming a tourist, Benge also unmoors himself, configuring his practice as a floating entity detached from the specifics of any one parochial point of view. In the case of the Tokyo Girls, Benge encounters a group who are likewise interested in deliberately alienating themselves, creating moments of the strange and uncanny within the broader context of the metropolitan scene.