A Heart and Art Collaboration: An Interview with Ellie and Akira Ohiso
East coast artists Ellie and Akira Ohiso have collaborated for over 15 years. For this duo, collaboration comes in many forms. From long-standing projects like Green Door Magazine to raising three children together, creating something as a team is more than just executing an idea, it’s recognizing each other’s strengths and weaknesses and building upon them.
Hi Ellie and Akira, welcome to the Lonely Arts Club! You’ve done so much more than the occasional project together. From many exhibitions to starting the successful Green Door Magazine, what has it been like collaborating together after all this time?
Ellie: Akira’s job is to come up with the idea, and I ask, “How can we make this happen?” I’m very detail oriented and I’m able to fill in the holes where Akira is not able to. In Seattle, there are so many artist grants available, and Akira has gotten some. But there is this other side to it where you have to present a budget and very concrete lengths of time. I know how to do that and stay on budget. That is a problem that a lot of artists have. Akira is like a balloon, and I’m a like the string on the balloon.
Seattle Viaduct Fish Kites, Akira Ohiso
Akira: I’m a bit of a dreamer. If I didn’t have someone with her skills, none of these ideas would come into fruition. I’m very “in the moment”, and not very detail oriented. Sometimes I’m like, “I’m trying to make a statement here,” and Ellie is like, “You’re not going to sell anything with that statement!” Historically, I know it’s cliche but it’s sometimes true, artists really do think about producing something but then don’t know what to do after that.
Ellie: Akira is very prolific. He’s always working, creating two or three drawings a day and some of them never see the light of day. He’ll show me things and I’m able to know what does and doesn’t work. I’ll understand if something has commercial value. I feel like every artist needs someone like me, like an artist manager. Someone who can help with editing, marketing and commercial applications.
Tell me more about one of your biggest collaborative projects, Green Book Magazine.
Ellie: After we had kids we moved to upstate New York, in the Catskills, which is an hour in a half from New York City. There was this growing trend of artists that were priced out of Manhattan moving there. It wasn’t like here where you can move to Tacoma and still have coffee shops and civilization, it was really out there. It snowed 8 months out of the year, so it created a haven for artists to create. Around 2011 when we started Green Door was when print magazines were taking off again. It was very timely.
Akira: I think we captured something. We started it because we felt like we didn’t have anyone like-minded, so we said, “Let’s do a publication that featured things we like and want to do.” The first few issues I was writing everything and, slowly, people started reaching out. By our last issue, we had Martha Stewart and Mark Ruffalo on the cover, all of these famous people who had a root connection to the area.
Ellie: With Green Door’s success, we ended up renting a disgusting storefront on the main street as our headquarters and created an art and event space.
Akira: That space was cooler than the magazine. That was what was really the magic, having people coming in and having blowout parties. One time there was a huge storm with a foot in half of snow, and three hundred people came.
Ellie: It was really “of the moment” because we were all these city refugees that lived in a place that felt very disconnected. We would throw parties, and because we had the popularity of the magazine we would get free drinks and food, and we could showcase art on the walls. We had taken our exposure from the magazine and had turned it into community engagement.
Akira: Everyone felt lifted and supported by each other because of that. We had a little opening, and they filled it.
Ellie: Us creating a magazine legitimized a community, and in turn, the community legitimized us with their voice.
What ended up happening with this project?
Ellie: By 2014, we were too big to be small, too small to be big. We were breaking even. Towards the end of Green Door, we were hiring photographers, make-up, and hair. We were issuing 1099s. It was crazy. It was coming to the point where we needed to hire an investor. Some of the investors we were looking into wanted us to pull back a little bit, to not write what we wanted to write.
Akira: We were in the middle of an issue and I said, “I don’t want to do this anymore.” People had a hard time understanding that. As an artist, when is it ever a good time to stop? I think it’s when you’re still feeling like you’re being honest.
Akira, your art has a very specific style of line work. Was there a particular shift that changed your art into what it is right now?
Akira: As an artist, it’s all a process. I’m experiencing a shift in my art right now. When I came to Seattle three years ago, I did a lot of drawings while just walking around the city, capturing the homeless community, and the gentrification that is happening. I started documenting all of this and built some shows around that. I did it for two years, and now I recently deleted all of my social media accounts so I could start fresh. I’m in that shift now and you go where the work takes you. It’s early days, and I kind of like being under the radar and experimenting. I get to test things out a little. I’m always reinventing my visual landscape or narrative.
I see a lot of illustrative, and colorful layered lines in your work.
Akira: Yeah, before coming to Seattle I was working only on paper. When I moved here, I started testing an app [Sketches and Procreate] and I liked the limitations of the app. It has ten colors, and I like working within those constraints. For me anyway, it’s very freeing because I can get overwhelmed with too many choices. I also take a lot from pop-culture and give images some movement and different meaning.
Ellie: He was quoted as the “democratizing of art”, because everyone can access this app with limited amount of money.
What have people gotten right about what you both do, and what has been the biggest misinterpretation?
Ellie: I’m a talker and Akira is the quieter one. What was interesting was when we were doing the magazine, we would be interviewed and people always minimized my role in things. I used to just sit there and think, “Well, my name is on the masthead above his.” The misconception is that my role in Akira’s success is undermined.
Akira: If Ellie says this is how it should be, I trust her because we’ve done that in the past and it’s been successful. It’s about what she brings to the table. She can make things very succinct, get them to the point to where it has a clear message.
Lastly, since you’ve come from the east coast to Seattle, what have been your successes and challenges with engaging with our community?
Akira: Personally, coming from New York, I think the diversity in this city has been a little lacking. Seattle says all the right things regarding diversity and inclusiveness but systematically, nothing really changes – or at least very slowly changes.
Ellie: In New York, you live diversity, but here they talk about diversity. That’s a step, but you need action. For instance, my children are multiracial. I worry that if you don’t understand diversity, there’s tokenization. You throw someone on a board not because you find inherent value in their voice, but because you just think you need their voice.
Akira: On the flip side, Seattle has been very positive to me due to the long history of the Japanese communities here with the internment camps and World War II. So I actually began to explore my Asian identity more due to coming to Seattle. My newer work is coming back to things I haven’t visited since childhood and put away for a while.
Ellie: In New York, you have to be pretty up the chain to get a gallery show. Seattle has more space for all types of artists, and you can make real money in emerging art. Akira has sold more work in Seattle than he has ever in New York. One of the things that Seattle is doing right is that it isn’t always about “connections”, it’s about emerging talents and voices.
Want to see more of Akira Ohiso’s art?
April 13th at the Ballard Artwalk, Featuring Nine New Works by Akira Ohiso and at Populuxe Brewery June through July
Art Beat /
In celebration of the future waterfront and new tunnel and part of the overall StepForward99.com series of events, the Office of the Waterfront and the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture will activate the top deck of Alaskan Way Viaduct with a once in a lifetime arts festival featuring unique performances, activities, artworks, installations and interventions from over 100 regional artists and organizations. All arts activities will take place on the top level of the Viaduct.
Saturday, February 2, 2019
In celebration of the future waterfront and tunnel, the Office of the Waterfrontand the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture will activate the top deck of Alaskan Way Viaduct with a once in a lifetime arts festival featuring unique performances, activities, and site-specific art installations from over 100 regional artists and organizations.
12:30 p.m.: Musical and Performance Procession:
Hello | Goodbye will begin with a processional featuring music and performances from Orkestar Zirkonium, Sara Lovett’s Giant Puppets, The Cabiri and more. The public is invited to join the procession which begins at Seneca St.
All Day: Activities, Installations and Performances:
Engage youth and family with a variety of activities, performances and unique site specific installations from regional artists and organizations including Au Collective, Cedric Bomford, Minh Carrico, Scott Trimble, April Soetarman, Sutton Beres Culler, Aubrey DeRush, Dewa Dorje, Roger Fernandes, Naomi Haverland, LelaVision, Ulises Mariscal, Tia Matthies, Emmett Montgomery, Akira Ohiso, DK Pan, Shawn Parks, The Cabiri, The Fabulous Downey Brothers, SANCA, and more!
The festival will be accessible via Seneca Street and the Battery Street Tunnel during the time period corresponding with your ticket.
Check Seattle Traffic website for the best way to get to the get around town.
Heading north: I-5 to Seneca St exit (#165), west on Seneca St to 1st Ave, and turn right (north) on 1st Ave.
Heading south: I-5 to Union St exit (#165B), west (toward Puget Sound) on Union St to 1st Ave.
From I-90: Heading west, merge onto I-5 North; take Madison St exit (#2C). Turn left on Madison and right on 1st Ave.
BY PUBLIC TRANSIT
Visit the Metro website for a complete guide to Seattle’s transit system and a map of nearby bus stops.
Sound Transit Link Light Rail University Street Station exits onto 2nd Ave.
See the SDOT interactive bike map for all levels of riders. Multiple bike racks are available on-street and public racks can be accessed by ramp or elevator on Union between 1st and 2nd Avenue on the first parking level of the Russell Investment Center Garage.
Boats from West Seattle, Bremerton, and Bainbridge, Blake, Vashon, and Vancouver Islands disembark within walking distance
Fish by Akira Ohiso
3D chalk by Naomi Haverland
The Challenge of Senior Hunger
In the hustle and bustle of modern life, it can be easy to lose sight of just how many seniors there are in our community. Many of them live on fixed incomes and in affordable housing. Due to their age, seniors often have high cost health care among other expenses. At North Helpline, we are committed to looking out for everyone in our community, and we feel that it is especially important to think of our seniors, who are too often overlooked.
In addition to North Helpline’s two food banks and the emergency services we offer, other organizations are looking out for seniors a well. For example, we caught up with Akira Ohiso who works at Sound Generations in Lake City. He works with older adults who are experiencing homelessness or are close to it. Together with Hunger Intervention Program, Sound Generations provides meals at Lake City Community Center including lunch and to-go meals.
Akira said “On an everyday level, when you feed someone a meal, the person serving the meal gets some sort of instant gratification from it. There is something to seeing people and helping them in that moment. The frustrating part is systemically, these huge, seemingly immovable systems have to change in order for this to be solved. I don’t know how to do that. With current government programs and the way real estate is, the whole thing is a mess to be honest.”
Akira sees how food insecurity often overlaps with the affordable housing crisis. “I think when you are on a fixed income, especially when it is something like a thousand dollars a month, and their rent is 800, it just doesn’t add up. I had one gentleman who came in recently who gets $975 a month, and his rent had just gone up to $1200 with a private landlord. He has a little extra savings here and there, but he can’t make it work long term. So we are looking at housing opportunities in Seattle which are long term solutions, basically sitting on waitlists for three or four years, and it doesn’t seem like there are any immediate solutions for what is going on right now around housing and the homeless.”
Our executive director Kelly knows that housing is a huge issue to tackle. She also underscored the cost of healthcare as a particular concern for seniors. She said, “One of our volunteers and clients was taking a heart medication every other day, and after she started coming to the food bank, she was able to take her medication as directed. So people are skipping meals, going without, or risking their health in order to feed themselves.”
Feeding America, the nationwide organization that runs Food Lifeline in King County, sees the same problem. “Nearly 5 million senior citizens currently face hunger in our country. After a lifetime of hard work, 63% of the households with older adults (50+) that Feeding America serves find themselves facing an impossible choice — to buy groceries or medical care.”
With the magnitude of senior hunger problem, what can we do? We all have our part in the web of compassion and service to our neighbors. Whether it is supporting a local nonprofit or just saying hello, our insistence on acknowledging seniors and the challenges they face sheds light on people’s various needs. We won’t always know what our neighbors are going through, but we can be grateful that the web of human services including North Helpline is able to help seniors to help themselves, and to never have to go hungry.
We are happy to welcome OHISO as Junes featured artist - showing his pop series on U.S. Presidents. Akira is an artist, writer and musician who gained popularity as an outspoken blogger and social media voice, and is now using social media to curate about green living, art and a philosophy of slowing down.
Specials night of Ballard Night Out! Get a buck off your beer when you come to support local art.
Meet Your Creek seeks to create a confluence.
By instigating walks, explorations, art making and education about the Creek, the project works to create connections among human and non-human inhabitants of the Longfellow Creek watershed.
Meet Your Creek invites professional artists from the community to design unique Postcards from the Creek relating to the Longfellow Creek watershed. Our first featured artist is Akira Ohiso. Learn more about the artist at www.ohiso.com
Akira Ohiso's postcards bring attention to the history of the river as a fertile fishery for the Duwamish Native tribe. The shallow banks of Longfellow Creek once supported smelt, but they slowly disappeared with the Industrial Revolution and the subsequent proliferation of chemicals and toxic waste. The smelt are depicted swimming upstream through steel pipes, which highlight recent environmental efforts to protect the Longfellow Creek and its habitat from future contamination. There is an irony in steel pipes as it was the steel industry that contributed to the contamination of the creek in the first place. The hope is that one day smelt will forge their way back to the Longfellow creek.
Last year Akira's work was featured in a public art project in Delridge called “Smelting” that was funded by the Office of Arts & Culture. Here is the description of the project:
Akira Ohiso's art installation brings attention to the history of the river as a fertile fishery for the Duwamish Native tribe. The shallow banks of Longfellow Creek once supported smelt, but they slowly disappeared with the Industrial Revolution and the subsequent proliferation of chemicals and toxic waste. Ohiso created drawings of native smelt - in red, yellow, black, and blue - that were then digitally printed onto white windsocks to create fish kites. In the artist's Japanese culture, fish kites (Koinobori) are flown on poles to celebrate an annual national Children's Day - symbolizing hope for a healthy and prosperous future for children. This year also marks the 75th anniversary of the Japanese-American internment camps, adding poignancy to the installation.
OHISO new solo show at Ghost Gallery at the historic Oddfellows Building in Capitol Hill was named The Top Nine Things to See at the May 2018 Capitol Hill Art Walk and a Critics' Pick.
Writer, blogger, and artist Ohiso will show mixed media works combining photography and illustration inspired by Seattle sights. The colors are lovely, and the examination of enduring neighborhood institutions and gentrification is bittersweet.
Akira Ohiso's lovely mixed-media works meditate on changes in the Seattle landscape.
Delridge neighborhood becomes outdoor art gallery
By Lindsay Peyton
Art has blossomed in the Delridge neighborhood this fall – popping up on roadways, in parks and at homes.
Akira Ohiso’s piece “Smelting” features delicately drawn fish on white windsock kites, an homage to the smelt that once lived in Longfellow Creek before the Industrial Revolution.
Nestled among the bamboo forest in a home on 26th Ave SW is Shawn Park’s “Orange you glad for green? Yes, I pink so.” The artist creates colorful lines, drawing contrast to the nearby greenery.
Tia Matthies created a small herd of brightly painted goats for her “Goats of Many Colors” – and Maria Jost made a surreal undersea-scape for her “Sea Creature Scavenger Hunt.”
For his piece “Hinernacula: Batcall,” Ryan Burns placed a delicately carved bat box in a neighborhood park. Susan Brown created theatrical collage characters that were placed on poles throughout the neighborhood for “Wild and Creative Wonders.”
Jasmine Brown’s work “Black Teen Wearing Hoodie” was made to commemorate the fifth anniversary of Trayvon Martin’s death.
She created life-size decals of her son wearing a black hoodie and participating in his day-to-day activities, from reading a book to playing music.
Brown said her son is 14-years old – and a hoodie is part of his school uniform.
“I wonder how many of our white neighbors would be afraid if they saw him going to school wearing his hoodie?” she said. “Every time my son leaves the house, I worry. Does he have a target on his back?”
She said the piece is her way of making a strong statement. “What I use is my art, my camera, my paintbrush, my work as a way to protest and make a mark,” she said.
For Brown, the location of her work is also meaningful. The photos are installed across the street from the Cooper School Artist Lofts, where she first lived with her son after moving to Seattle.
“I still feel a connection to the neighborhood,” she said. “It was my entrance to Seattle. It’s cool to see my work on the landscape there.”
Artists featured in this outdoor exhibit participated in the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture Public Art Boot Camp.
“They explain how to seek big commissions, how to start out, how to adapt your work,” Brown said.
Marcia Iwasaki, project manager for Seattle Office of Arts & Culture Public Art Program, explained that the boot camp is intense. The free program is held each spring and offers insight into every aspect of public art -- from how to maintain outdoor work to the ins and outs of contracts.
Participating artists are encouraged to apply for the Art Interruptions program – offered through a collaboration of the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture and the Seattle Department of Transportation.
“Right away, they get their first opportunity,” Iwasaki said. “And they have enough background to understand what goes into it.”
Summer Jawson, senior civil engineer in project development for the Department of Transportation, explained that Art Interruptions follows on the heels of the department’s Neighborhood Greenway program.
9 Emerging Contemporary Artists From Seattle to Know
When people think of Seattle, they often think of the well-established, household names in business, music, and art. Even after the creation of grunge some 20 years ago, Seattle is still kicking; the city has more to offer than Bill Gates, Kurt Cobain, and Chihuly. In a place that’s always looking forward, here are nine emerging contemporary artists.
Akira Ohiso is an artist, writer, and musician who is interested in exploring the “boundaries between digital and analog media.” His current sketches, created with his finger on his iPad with help from an app, are observations of the city of Seattle. Though he intends the art to be objective for the audience to interpret as they like, he does hope to specifically promote discussion on diversity, homelessness, gentrification, and green living.
Art Interruptions 2017: Delridge Greenway and Connector Trail
Temporary artwork in the Delridge Neighborhood Greenway and Connector Trail
August 3 – December 31, 2017
The Office of Arts & Culture, in partnership with the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT), commissioned seven emerging public artists to create temporary art installations within the Delridge Neighborhood Greenway and Delridge Connector Trail for Art Interruptions 2017. The artworks inhabit city sidewalks and parks and offer passers-by a brief interruption in their day, eliciting a moment of surprise, beauty, contemplation or humor. Art Interruptions is funded by the Seattle Department of Transportation 1% for Arts Funds.
Art Interruptions Walking Tour Saturday, October 7, 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. Explore the West Seattle neighborhood, experience Art Interruptions and meet the participated artists. Hosted by Feet First; visit www.feetfirst.org for detailed updates. All photos by Minh Carrico.
Smelting by Akira Ohiso
Akira Ohiso’s art installation brings attention to the history of the river as a fertile fishery for the Duwamish Native tribe. The shallow banks of Longfellow Creek once supported smelt, but they slowly disappeared with the Industrial Revolution and the subsequent proliferation of chemicals and toxic waste. Ohiso created drawings of native smelt – in red, yellow, black, and blue – that were then digitally printed onto white windsocks to create fish kites. In the artist’s Japanese culture, fish kites (Koinobori) are flown on poles to celebrate an annual national Children’s Day – symbolizing hope for a healthy and prosperous future for children. This year also marks the 75thanniversary of the Japanese-American internment camps, adding poignancy to the installation.
January 2017: Article on Akira Ohiso's Seattle Drawn Artwork
The January 11, 2017 issue of Real Change features Akira's latest work, Seattle Drawn, which is now on view atPopuluxe Brewing through Jan. 31st. Thank you to Real Change Homeless Empowerment Project and staff writer Lisa Edge for the feature.
To read the full article, you can pick up a copy at local vendor locations throughout the city.
"Real Change is a reader-supported low-barrier work opportunity that rewards effort from the first day forward. More than 300 active vendors sell our award-winning weekly newspaper each month, with about 800 vendors served annually."
More than a million dollars is earned annually for vendors by purchasing the paper on the street.
Learn more about this empowering program here.
September 2, 2016: Feature on Photography For Girls, our collaboration with photographer Kelly Merchant
This Fall, we had the opportunity to work with a really special photographer, working on a really special project. Kelly Merchant, (along with Akira Ohiso and Ellie Ohiso) is the driving force behind Photography For Girls. A movement that consists of photographing women on their terms with realistic representation, portraying them in a light where they are comfortable in their own skin.
BEEKMAN 1802 BOYS
Featured Artist September 2015
On The Radio: Ellie Ohiso on Photography & Feminism
The following is the edited transcription of my interview with Ellie Ohiso that was broadcast on my radio show, The Economy Of, on August 10th on WIOX in Roxbury New York. Ellie Ohiso, the co-creator of Green Door Magazine, is designer and publisher of Photography For Girls, a Catskills magazine project that was feature here a few weeks ago.
On September 7th, I will interview the photographer on this project, Kelly Merchant on WIOX at 9am.
JN: It’s wonderful to have you and it’s wonderful to have this project in the Catskills. So what is Photography for Girls?
EO: It’s a very small print project, almost the size of a Playbill. It’s a concept of interviewing local women, in addition to photographing them, and allowing them have a large say in how they’re photographed. The photos are not retouched for their physicality, but there’s some color correction that we do. Other than that, we run the photo as it was taken. There’s no manipulation in that sense other than traditional lens manipulation. Then Akira, my husband, interviewed the subjects and then discussed with them the empowerment process of being photographed, how they feel women in general are represented and this greater discussion of feminism.
It’s a brilliant idea. Whose idea was it?
Kelly Merchant, who is a wonderful photographer, we had the pleasure of working with her many times when we used to do the magazine Green Door, which is a local Catskills and Hudson Valley arts publication. Kelly had this wonderful vision and she’s so easy to work with and she loved working with us. She always had this kernel of an idea to turn the subjects she had been working with over the years into some type of larger project of what it means to be a female photographer because she was experiencing that herself. For example, does it make a difference to the subject if it’s a male or female photographing them? Do they open up more? When she approached us with this concept, she asked how she could bring something like this to fruition. Akira and I – I think one of our strengths is to take this abstract concept and give it a little bit of form. Based on Akira’s background as a social worker, he can take intimidating subjects, that normally people wouldn’t feel comfortable talking about, and couching it in a very therapeutic way that makes it not intimidating. Then I have a design background and so I can take all these abstract concepts into this physical form, in this case, a printed piece. In the course of last fall and into the winter and through the spring, we’ve been working on bringing this idea into fruition.
How much effort does it take? How many man-hours to publish a brochure like this?
This is different than Green Door in that we were all giving our time for free, meaning Kelly was doing the photography out of a labor of love and Akira was doing the interviews out of a labor of love and I was doing the design. So this wasn’t a project that we were trying to make money with. It wasn’t a for-profit concept. The only hard costs for us, other than time, was printing it. I wasn’t thinking about it in terms of number of hours. I’d say at least seven months to bring it from concept to fruition. Countless hours just, you know, and photographing the subjects and making sure they were comfortable with how they were being photographed. There were specific requests and many women had very specific requests. Some did want make-up, some didn’t want make-up. Most of them are not wearing make-up in the book itself. So there was a lot of creative thought that had to go into it and time other than what you see that goes into the finished project.
But I think anyone who works on some large project knows there are countless hours that people don’t see when you work creatively. Even when you think of this community radio station, just the prep work that we did just to produce one show. It’s so large and the community doesn’t see it. That’s what makes art and creative thought and culture so special, because there are countless hours of work behind it.
I’m so glad you brought that up because it really is a huge endeavor to do any creative project and this does take a long time.
Right. I think that also, we live in an area where there is a large farming community. I feel like artists and farmers and very different in a lot of ways and very similar. A farmer has to take a lot of baby steps to produce one item and sometimes, when you’re seeing them do the work, it either doesn’t make sense or you can’t appreciate the amount of time that went into it. I think that art’s a lot like farming in the sense that there’s a final product, whether it’s a fruit or a painting or a radio station; I think that sometimes you have to take a look at that and say, what went into this?
So what inspired you to publish this project as a magazine?
Just based on our background. I’m a Gen-X-er and maybe if I were a millennial, this would totally have been a website, but I love the power of print. I think people pay attention to it more. They’re less likely to dismiss it. So there is something about sitting down with this tiny book, half the size of a letter paper, and the way it was printed we wanted it to look like it wasn’t something that was super powerful at first glance. But, maybe if you gave it a second chance, it’s talking about something pretty hefty. So I think, you know, we live in a world today where, online, there is just so much content to sift through and I think where we are heading is content that’s meaningful, and having an impact. I think sometimes in print it’s easier to have a greater impact than online, because it’s something tangible, you know?
And I don’t have to sit and wait for it to load. I can just open it up. I spend so much time waiting for websites to load. Website content is reliant on you having a really fast internet connection.
Exactly, and part of what Akira was thinking when he was doing these interviews is that the book can be some kind of educational tool to hand to a young girl eventually to read and perhaps be inspired and see herself there.
How do you pick subjects? Is anyone able to be photographed? It’s an ongoing project, right?
Correct. We call this Book One because we’d ideally like to expand it into a larger concept. Most of the subjects in the first issue are women whom Kelly has had the pleasure of getting to know over the years because she worked with them on some other photography project outside the scope of this one. So she felt like approaching them for this project – as something we couldn’t show them what it was going to be – they were more likely to say yes than some random local women who wouldn’t know us or be as trustworthy as doing something good with the first. Sometimes you have to prove yourself first. We have a website where people can get in touch with us if they want to be a subject and what the finished product would look like. We’ve given the women a lot of creative control. We ran the images that the women were comfortable with and there’s power in that.
Yes, in women’s magazines, I’m pretty sure that the model doesn’t get to edit anything.
Correct, and even from working with Green Door, photographers would give me an edited stack from the shoot for the day and I was the one who was making those photographic and editorial choices along with Akira. We were the bosses in that case. I didn’t ask the photographer if it was OK to run that image and that’s what a magazine does. It’s about which image fits the vision of the magazine, but we weren’t retouching things in Green Door. We’ve had women in the covers of issues that we didn’t retouch. Green Door was not a photoshopped magazine. In a lot of magazines, the model sees the ad in the issue and it has either been retouched or not. There have been instances like Kate Winslett who spoke out against her overly retouched image. Some of the images in Photography For Girls were taken with Polaroids, not digital cameras and you can tell with some of the imagery. There was mild color retouching, but no photoshopping.
That’s such a revolution in this world where women’s magazines are heavily airbrushed. Let’s get to the hard-hitting subject. The effect of women’s magazines on young girls in today’s world: is it detrimental?
Oh yes, and I realize what an effect a publication can have on an area, just even in a microcosm. Had I been sending negative messages in a microcosm, I think about the ripple effect it would have had. I do subscribe to certain women’s magazines. I’m a print gal. I like seeing what these magazines are up to, even if it’s something like In Style, even though it’s usually some type of materialistic message. I subscribe to those magazines because I like to see what’s going on out there.
I can wholeheartedly say as a teenager I was profoundly affected by those images because I was a short, Jewish girl with curly hair from Long Island who had a big chest and hips. I didn’t look like the women in those pages. And now as an adult, I have a multiracial family. Akira is half-Japanese, so my children are a quarter Japanese, so what kind of world are they going to grow in? Is my daughter going to see someone like her on the cover of a magazine that realistically looks like her?
I think perhaps social media plays a part in some of the instantaneous feedback that some of these publications receive. When they do run an image they can get instant feedback from their readership saying this is not right, or this is not fair. But I think the majority of the time, women let those issues slide just because we’ve been beaten down into submission, you know?
I read Akira’s foreword and I found it very moving. He’s a great writer and he talked about his daughter feeling like it might be better to be a boy. Do you think a lot of young girls are growing up like that?
Yes, my daughter Cy who is turning four this week. Akira and I are progressive parents and we have personally given her no messaging saying it’s better to be a boy than a girl and yet, still, the stuff she hears and sees… Akira had a conversation with her wherein he said you could be president one day. She said, a girl president? And he said, no a president. So where was she getting that message? It wasn’t us, but it’s stuff she’s seeing and feeling and hearing. I think I didn’t realize the power of having a daughter and it’s kind of like… how do I not do to her what society did to me?
Do you think women feel pressure to be everything and how can we change that?
I think women do feel pressure to be everything and that’s something that Kelly addressed in her foreword of the book. I do feel like we’re in this straddle period in which we’re straddling this 1950s housewife with the CEO and three months’ maternity kind of generation. I’m hoping it will be a little different for my daughter Cy’s generation and maybe some of the millennials, some of which we do feature in the book. You’ll notice that the millennials: they vary from this positive thing where they don’t feel like being a woman has affected them, which is actually wonderful. My follow up question is, is that because they are young and naive, or is that because it’s really true – that their generation doesn’t feel it the same way that ours does? And then there’s another millennial interviewed in the issue who is very aware of the lie that women receive and has been aware of it since aged 12. I don’t think I had that awareness at aged 12, so I think there is something very wonderful happening for 20 and under. I feel very positive about it, particularly our generation because we’re about the same age. We are of this bridge generation, we’re dealing with our aging parents and we’re dealing with our children at the same time. Past generations didn’t have to do that. So we’re in this no-woman’s land. Can I do it all? Is it possible? I feel that all the time.
I do think that a lot of women are defined by their relationship to an external force, like motherhood, or being a wife. So we have to work a little bit on defining our roles based on ourselves at the central point.
How would Ohiso design a better or more appropriate women’s magazine? I would love to see a women’s mag designed just like Photography For Girls.
I’ll answer that question in just a tick – just kind of take a step forward before I go back to that. There is a woman’s national magazine that launched about a year ago. I think it’s called Verily. It’s a very typical women’s magazine except that they do not Photoshop the women’s faces or bodies. It think that’s progress. If I were doing a women’s magazine today, I think it would be so alternative that it would have to be kind of a niche publication. I’m wary of wanting print on a national scale at the moment. We are seeing kind of an uptick in print, but I think that it’s much easier to have an impact on a local level, which is usually where I focus my efforts. Could I see myself doing something like that? I could. I would go past the “does not retouch” and representing real women, even just the content. I think that’s the greatest success: it’s the content not just the imagery of women’s magazines. I don’t need another article on the ten ways you can look for signs that your boyfriend’s going to leave you. Magazines need to appeal to that kind of sensationalism, which is why they’re stuck in that space, so I don’t want to knock them. I know how hard it is to do that and get someone to pick something up. But I think we live in a time where shock value sometimes is authenticity, you know? Everything’s so inauthentic now that I think authenticity goes a long way to having an impact.