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Photography Sly Morikawa

Sly Morikawa’s ethereal photographs reveal her dreamy inner life

Shot on film in her mother’s Japanese hometown, Everything Reminds Me of You is an evocative study of ‘love, melancholy, ecstasy, loneliness, anxiety, boredom, calm’

Faceless bodies in knee-high boots; abandoned sports cars and vintage televisions; white kittens sprawled on soft linen. Sly Morikawa’s latest zine and exhibition are like portals into her inner emotional landscape. Seductive but soft; tough but quiet; timeless but nostalgic: the images allude to a complex combination of emotions, memories, moods and personal histories that informs the way she sees and experiences the world around her.

Currently on display at Village Books in Manchester, the project is titled Everything reminds me of you. The ‘you’ referring not to a person, “but an instinct or emotion,” Morikawa explains. “I think everyone has their own experience of it. It’s the colours that you’re drawn to, or the emotions that define you… It’s the feeling of fading memories, or a recurring presence in your dreams.”

Morikawa has been aware of this inner reality “since forever”, but she only recently started conceptualising it through photography. “I feel it the most when I’m alone,” she says, describing herself as a “hyper-sensitive kid”, who struggled with emotions that felt “too big at the time”.

The Japanese-Australian artist was born and raised in Sydney in 1993. She’s the second youngest of six siblings: “a chaotic and competitive environment”. Her family are all musical, and this shaped her artistic interests, but Morikawa struggled with the pressure. “I developed a pretty dark outlook on the world early on, which has carried through for most of my life,” she says. “It’s only been in the past couple years that I’ve been able to step away from that.”

Many of the images in Everything remind me of you were shot in Japan, in Tokyo, as well as her mother’s hometown Fukuyama, in Hiroshima prefecture. Some of her fondest childhood memories are from Fukuyama, and her connection to Japan continues to inspire her in many ways. “Photography is deeply ingrained in Japanese culture,” she says. “I feel more inspired in Japan, there’s more encouragement and understanding, and there’s more points of reference for what I’m doing. I’ve been spending a lot more time over there this past year, so the images I’ve been making have naturally been an exploration of my heritage.”

When Morikawa’s Japanese grandparents passed away a couple of years ago, her uncle sent over five boxes of old photographs. “The images span generations, and I find them overwhelmingly sentimental and beautiful. I have my ojii-chan’s [grandfather’s] old camera, but I still haven’t used it because I fear I’ll never do it justice.”

This appreciation of history surfaces in the sense of nostalgia that ripples through not only her images, but her process. Morikawa picked up photography after buying her first film camera in 2017, and started sharing her photos online. “It was never that serious… but it became a fixation over time,” she says. The tactility of analogue processes appeals to her. “Honestly, I find digital cameras boring,” she says. “Film keeps me present and flowing… There’s an element of surprise, not knowing for certain how the images will come out.” Like most artists, Morikwa’s day job – running the modelling agency Stone Street, which recently opened a branch in Tokyo – gives her autonomy. “Photography is my ikigai,” she says. “I take photos for myself and for the process.”

Morikawa’s images are profoundly personal, but they represent an experience of reality that’s relevant to us all. “Everything to me is so coloured by love, melancholy, ecstasy, loneliness, anxiety, boredom, calm. I can’t escape it,” she says. Photography is a lens through which she can express this sentiment, which is so easy to feel, but almost impossible to describe by words. And for the rest of us, these images can be a cue to lean into all the contradictory ways in which we see the world around us too.

Everything reminds me of you is running at Village Gallery in Manchester until September 10 2023 and the zine is available here.

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