Kansai, Fashion & Manga – At The British Museum -August 2019

Hatsumi Iwasaki who works with Kansai Yamamoto’s got in touch to say Kansai would like me to photograph his exchange student’s fashion show at the British Museum to open CITI MANGA (on till the 26th of August 2019). The whole evening was under the parasol of Kansai’s wonderful, creative and vibrant vision. At first I had fear and trepidation about how I would get the images right, where would we set up the lights, what would be available for us at the British Museum. How would we get this done? Luckily when we arrived at the British Museum the evening before the event we were met by the Freddie Matthews who turned out to be a lover of Tibetan Buddhist art, much like myself being a Buddhist. Freddie allayed all my fears about lighting and equipment and gave me an area to shoot in at the top of the beautiful stairs as you enter the main atrium of the Museum.

It’s a common misconception that because the museum has an amazing glass roof that that would provide enough light for dramatic photography. However this is not the case because the light is very clear and flat without any visible contrast. I knew I needed to get a flash unit to really capture the vibrancy and drama the fashion creations inspired by Kansai.

When I say it was a dash around the British Museum I am not exaggerating, I needed to capture the models before they hit the runway, portraits outside the museum of Kansai, the Japanese Ambassador, sponsors, Grayson Perry, students and the performance by the musicians consisting of two performers one playing an amplified Shamisen and a live DJ, plus various assembled Manga characters. 

Apart from it being a really hot and humid day I was led around rapidly through the different set ups, the models, the runway, the museum front, the music performers. It was non-stop and I was concerned about how I would get it all done. In the event I took over 1000 pictures and spent four days editing after the event. I was genuinely impressed by the fantastic influence Kansai had, had on the students work. It was wonderful to see the impact on another generation of his vision as can be seen in these photographs.

At one point just before the show Kansai got the models and young designers together to get everyone calling and responding to his piercing inspirational Samurai calls. I noticed that he worked as hard to inspire these young students as he did backstage at his show Hello Japan that I filmed and photographed in 2013. He is the most amazing showman and he did the same thing, engaging with his audience in the same way, an incredible Super Showman.

We then started photographing the models before they hit the runway in rapid succession and I looked over to my PA/Daughter Eugenie and I could see she was concerned by an acrid electric smell emanating from the flash pack. Ian and myself were struggling to get the computer and the camera to work in sync in the incredible heat and fervour of the moment.

Freddie and the British Museum had very kindly cordoned off an area for us to photograph, complete with arrows and signs directing members of the public up the stairs or towards the lift. But still a few confused Japanese tourists who did not understand the notice and wandered through our set smiling and convinced we were just another Manga type attraction. This then led to a deluge of other members of the public meandering through our set, only to be castigated by Ian my Geordie assistant retorting in frustration “If you carry down there love you’ll end up on the run way and part of the fashion show.” At which point they slunk away to the lift, after their severe chiding, as they obviously did not wish to take part in the fashion show.

Meanwhile I continued to shoot the students costumes followed by the Manga fan brigade. They had really gone to town with their costumes (with varying degrees of detail and success) but all done with great sincerity and great devotion, which I really admired. At one point when there was a tidal wave of Manga’s, which Ian was attempting to hold back; I tried to usher a larger group in front of the camera only to be told ‘No, we’re not part of their story.” Which confused me more, clearly I have a lot to learn about Manga manners, and that told me.

I then was asked to rush to shoot the musicians in front of the Greek Temple in a different part of the vast museum. To say it was surreal to see this kind of performance in such a unique setting was an understatement. I also only had a hand flash as my assistant and PA were preparing for the group shot outside the museum. In my absence I later learned that the minute I left the Manga people, the flash unit gave up the ghost and ‘the capacitor burnt out and melted down’, it was done for, over and out. This meant that we no longer had lights and disaster was only averted when my assistants switched off the unit rapidly.

I then went outside to shoot the entire CITI MANGA ensemble including Kansai, Grayson Perry the Japanese Ambassador, the designers and their models and all the supporters who helped set up a really fantastic show. I jumped up and down impersonating Kansai San and eventually we got the shot.

Later Kansai, myself Ian (my assistant) and my PA/Daughter had a fantastic private Japanese supper with Kansai, where Kansai told us how excited he was by the evening and his recent trip to the new V & A in Dundee. Later as we stood outside the restaurant waiting for our cabs, two slightly inebriated young ladies approached Kansai and said, “Is this a nightclub?” Kansai looked so spectacular in his ocean blue suit with a polar bear on the back and a silver sequinned waistcoat they had become confused. Kansai looked at me a little bemused not understanding them and I said, “They think this is a nightclub and you are the Super Showman.” He laughed and I thought how accidentally right they were.

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