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Madonna, Kenji Wakasugi (1985)
Taken from Adore Madonna by Kenji Wakasugi (2020), published by NJG StudioPhotography Kenji Wakasugi

These provocative portraits capture Madonna on her ascent to superstardom

Photographer Kenji Wakasugi shares exclusive images of the young singer from his new book, Adore Madonna

Every significant artist has at least one defining work that consecrates their legacy. In 1984, the release of Like A Virgin was Madonna’s opportunity to consolidate the success of her debut record and properly establish herself in the charts. Drawing provocative parallels between her own name and the mother of Christ, while invoking the idea of the immaculate conception and flirting with eroticised religious imagery, this album was, for Madonna, just such a work. Amid the furore of controversy that surrounded its release, she ascended into the canon of popular culture and Like A Virgin remains one of the best-selling albums of all-time. 

In January of 1985, photographer Kenji Wakasugi was waiting in a Tokyo studio to photograph Madonna on her first trip to Japan, on a promotional tour of Like A Virgin. He’d been allotted 45 minutes, commissioned by Playboy Weekly Excite. Wakasugi was unaware that he was about to immortalise the young singer on the threshold of almost-unprecedented stardom.

“There was no stylist in my memory, just Madonna’s own personal style. She wore the same clothes she arrived in” – Kenji Wakasugi

It was an intimate shoot. “In the studio, there was one flash unit and one pink sofa, nothing else,” the photographer recalls. ”There were just a few people in the room.” Nearly 40 have passed but he can still vividly remember his initial impressions of the singer as she arrived. “She was beyond beautiful,” he tells Dazed. “She was vibrant, vigorous, energetic, bright, full of spirit.” Despite her manifest “power”, he was also struck by her modesty and professionalism. And, though the photographer and the singer had no shared language, Wakasugi recalls the “spark” that existed between them. 

A new book, Adore Madonna, published by NJG Studio, gathers together Wakasugi’s photographs from that shoot. The black and white images capture the “Material Girl” in a time of unadulterated self-expression, wearing Maripol’s layered rubber and crucifix jewellery, and referencing to early Gaultier and Westwood. ”There was no stylist in my memory, just Madonna's own personal style,” Wakasugi tells Dazed. “She wore the same clothes she arrived in when she came to the studio, and she did not change her clothes. She wore the coat when she got in the taxi.”

Take a look at the gallery above to see the portraits of Madonna taken by Wakasugi on that day back in 1985, including three exclusive images previewed here on Dazed. 

Adore Madonna by Kenji Wakasugi is published by NJG Studio and is available from January 25 2020