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After beginning her career as a photojournalist, Japanese-born photographer Sarai Mari transitioned to fashion photography. Inspired by Helmut Newton “for his erotically charged representations of strong women”, Mari provocatively interprets female strength and celebrates all definitions of gender and sexuality. In March 2017, Mari released her second book, Speak Easy, inspired by the gender roles men and women play within society.

Could you describe your childhood?
I grew up in small mountain, which is listed as a world heritage site by UNESCO in Japan. Every society there has social codes that dictate how people should behave: traditionally women are supposed to be shy and quietly mannered, and people are scared of being isolated or left behind, so they conform to fit in. I tried to fight against it; I was loud, behaved like free-women, and drove a big motorcycle when I was a teenager with bleached hair (a bit crazy for my village people standards). 
I left my tiny village when I was 18 years old, and I went to Osaka, the second capital city in Japan; after that, I went to Los Angeles to study photography. I felt like I had to get out of my close-minded society as quickly as possible to see the world and find people who had the same mind and free spirit. I wanted to prove that I could do something different.
When did you realize you wanted to be a photographer? 
When I was 19 years old. I was starting out a photography course at Santa Monica College, in California. Photography hit me deeply right away and, I believed that I could be a photographer.
Who/What influenced you?
My boyfriend at that time, who wanted to be a filmmaker (he encouraged me a great deal); the photography teachers at the colleges where I studied, too; and Man Ray, Arnold Newman and more, as well.
How important is gender role in your work?
Not much! I would take anyone in if he/she had an interesting personality.

How important is gender role in the time we are living in?
It depends on where you belong. If you are a family man/woman, gender roles are your family rules. If you belong to the ‘youth’ group, gender role is not a big deal anymore. If you are a working person, it depends on where you work. If you are a kid, you probably have a mom and a dad who teach you gender roles. But I don’t think it’s that important. Gender roles are based on a judgmental society, and I think they are falling away.
What is your book Speak Easy about?
By celebrating all definitions of gender and sexuality, the previously defined terms fall away. They lose their meaning, and there is nothing left but the raw expression of the subject in the image. This is the society we live in today.
Describe your dream project/collaboration?
I want to work on more book projects. I’ll publish my third book in a few years. I’ll have more solo shows, and I’ll take part in a big photo exhibition in NYC and in Japan. And I’d also love to do a big advertising campaign with my style.

David Valinskiy

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