White socks are the most everyday items. They’re ubiquitous, everybody owns a pair – and yet they’re fraught with a matrix of contradictory meanings. Worn by the ingenue and the jock alike, white socks can be domestic, athletic, sensual, grubby, provocative, innocent, pristine or soiled. “As an item of clothing, white socks are so simple yet transformative,” says photographer Sly Morikawa. “They’re full of symbolism and I love that they’re for everyone.”
Without realising, Morikawa has been photographing white socks for years. “I only noticed this year how many images in my archives had someone wearing white socks or stockings. It was unintentional – or maybe my subconscious had been driving it all along – but now that I’ve seen it I can’t un-see it. I guess going forward I won’t be able to say it’s unintentional anymore.”
Recognising this recurring theme in her work inspired her to publish a new zine. Simply titled White Socks, the project is an ode to these omnipresent garments. From schoolgirl-style ankle socks to sports socks, thigh-highs and fishnets, the book and its accompanying exhibition at Salt and Pepper in Tokyo, bring together portraits from the Japanese-Australian photographer’s archive.
“White socks are so pervasive in popular culture, the references are endless… old American Apparel ads, boys’ bedrooms with dirty socks, hot girls on halloween, Kogyaru school girl culture, or sukeban girl gangs from the 90s,” Morikawa tells Dazed. “White socks on tatami mats also come to mind, more specifically the traditional tabi socks which date back to the 15th century. I think socks seem more obvious to me in Japan because everyone takes their shoes off when they’re in their homes or visiting certain places.”
The zine is Morikawa’s seventh publication and typifies the dreamy, ethereal style evoked by her previous monographs. Similarly to Everything Reminds Me of Her [a zine she published earlier this year], the images in White Socks are ambiguous and suggestive, like stills from an intriguing, sensual movie. She explains, “Sex, intimacy, subculture and self are themes I often find myself working with. I’m not actively seeking them out, but it’s the world I live in and I want to represent that in my work. I like photographing people for who they are, for what makes them who they are. I like capturing softness and sensuality and sensitivity in people.”