marchioness > archive > issue 2 > emily ashcroft: lost in tokyo girls
Interview by Jessica Ann Richardson — Edited by Izzy Yon
Lost in 'Tokyo Girls'
Marchioness talks TOKYO GIRLS, THE VIRGIN SUICIDES, MILKFED, X-GIRL, KAWAKO PRESS, and FAVE TOKYO HAUNTS with portrait and fashion photographer Emily Ashcroft
@ Emily Ashcroft
Aged twenty-two, following too many viewings of Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation, I waitressed solidly for six months before purchasing a one way ticket to Tokyo. It was on my bucket list to experience living in all four fashion capitals during my twenties. Starting in London (my stomping grounds), I then relocated to Paris (j’adored the constant slew of red wine, coffee and cigs - not such a fan of pretentious luxury fashion), it made sense that my next stop would be Tokyo or New York. As a fashion student, I longed to visit the city home of my most cherished designers: Rei Kawakubo, Yohji Yamamoto, Jun Takahashi and Junya Watanabe. Luckily for me, I discovered a warehouse behind my rental apartment was filled to the brim with Comme des Garcons and Vivenne Westwood (note to reader — Tokyo loves vintage Viv). In fact, I purchased a black backless Junya halter top for 1000 Yen (approx £7) which became my clubbing uniform for the entirety of my stay in Tokyo. My time in Japan was defined by the expected: karaoke, highballs, matcha lattes, onsen, cherry blossom season, late-night ramen, and warehouses stacked high with Comme Des Garçons. Then there was the unexpected: an attitude, the attitude of Tokyo girls, an attitude which I adopted and channelled as my own, sporting Gwen Stefani L.A.M.B. arm candy to the underground bars of Shinjuku Ni-Chōme and beyond. It's a confidence, a contrariness, a rebelliousness. It's the attitude that inspired the foundations of Marchioness. Its style comes in the form of blunt-cut fringes, long straightened locks, rolling out of bed slipping into combat boots and a motorbike jacket to pick up takeaway coffee at the local 7/11. It’s this attitude that portrait and fashion photographer Emily Ashcroft has beautifully tapped into and captured in her photobook Tokyo Girls.
Since publishing her first photobook Tokyo Girls in 2019 under Kawako Press (founded by her photographer boyfriend Casper Kenty, who has who has published his own photobook Tokyo Diary, 2019), Emily Ashcroft has carved out a niche for herself documenting the uber-cool Japanese girls that roam Tokyo’s sidewalks. Self-styled (bar one, Yuko), Emily’s subjects are a mix of friends, models, actresses — girls she hangs out with when in town. Citing photographers, artists and directors HIROMIX, Mika Ninagawa and Nobuyoshi Araki as influences, she's set to follow in the footsteps of her heroes whose talents extend beyond the lens, being prolific book publishers as well as photographers. There’s a hint of nostalgia to Ashcroft’s work - her portraits could easily have been published in the 90s fashion publications she's so fond of: Cutie, Studio Voice, Out of Photographers Magazine. She has a real eye for scouting her subjects — as described in the press release, she captures the ‘organic and unfiltered beauty of the young female experience'. Although photographed as portraits, there's something about binding them together in print that’s très girl gang (v Marchioness). Watch this space Marchi-grrrls and bring on Tokyo Girls Volume II.
Talk to us about Tokyo Girls.
Tokyo Girls is my first book. I’ve visited Japan regularly since 2014, shooting my first editorial for a Japanese magazine in 2015 and began photographing the girls I hung out with each time I was in Tokyo from then onwards. I’ve collected photography books for a long time and some of my favourite photographers are prolific book publishers. Tokyo Girls is a collection of some of my favourite photographs I’ve taken, so after spending several years visiting Tokyo and shooting, it seemed like a perfect time to make my first photobook.
Your Tokyo Girls are effortlessly cool, confident and fierce in both their style and attitude — channelling girl gang vibes! What qualities do you look for when scouting girls to photograph?
I found most of my girls through the internet, which I find is better than portfolios most of the time as you can get a vibe for the real person, her interests etc. Some of the girls in my book were already models, one an aspiring actress and another worked in tech. I like girls who just want to hang out and have fun, rebels with strong personalities and great attitudes.
Are the Tokyo Girls self-styled or did you source their outfits?
All self-styled except Yuko - she asked if her stylist friend could dress her for the shoot, which was cool with me! I love hanging out and rummaging through wardrobes together choosing outfits from their own clothes.
Are you planning on making a second photobook? If yes, what can we expect from it? Would you shoot the same girls?
Definitely! I’m working on a continual project with a British singer/model Megan Rutherford and also daydreaming about a second Tokyo Girls book one day!
In the press release for Tokyo Girls, your work is described as capturing the 'organic and unfiltered beauty of the young female experience'. There is something very natural about your portraits. Almost as if the girls have rolled out of bed wearing killer outfits, casually walking around the streets of Tokyo on their way to get coffee. Were you aiming to capture their natural beauty?
The girls in my book all have such an affection towards photography and a natural comfort in front of the camera. They are so easy going and fun. The portraits seem natural because our time shooting is so organic, we’re just hanging out for the day, walking around the streets of Tokyo talking and chilling — I’m just documenting that with my camera. I always hang out with them when I’m back in Tokyo.
Why did you choose to publish with Kawako Press?
Kawako Press is in fact a small publishing press my boyfriend created. It was so much fun to release both of our first books together and are now planning on publishing other artists’ works and projects this year.
What was your route into becoming a photographer?
Picking up a camera in my early teens and being the one in my friendship circle to capture and document what we were up to. I studied photography at art school but much of what I do now has been self-taught. My style of shooting has evolved over the years after many shoots. I simply love and enjoy taking photographs.
How would you describe your photography style?
I prefer to shoot one on one, working directly with my model and styling together. I try to document who they really are, so that’s why I gravitate towards shooting in their own environments.
Could you talk about your experience assisting British fashion photographer Nick Knight?
It was fascinating, I would love to experience it all over again. Sir Nick Knight was shooting for the Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore! exhibition and book celebrating her extraordinary life and wardrobe. The shoot was in a huge manor house part of the Isabella Blow estate not too far from where I live. It was such a magical experience and it will always be an amazing memory in my career.
Could you talk a bit about the use of colour in your photographs which have a sort of dreamlike quality.
I guess that’s partly the beauty of film. There is something really different about shooting with film compared to digital, I love the colour palette and texture of the images.
What’s your personal style like? Where do you source your clothes? Has your love of Japanese culture influenced the way you dress?
I have always been an evolving tomboy ha! I love T-shirts and jeans, or mini dresses with huge boots. Half of my wardrobe seems to be X-Girl and Milkfed— two of my favourite Japanese brands.
Where does your love affair with Tokyo and Japanese culture originate?
My dad travelled regularly to Japan for work in the 90s and would bring me things home like Doraemon merch — one of the tee’s I still have to this day! Kind of a cliché, but I was obsessed with anime when I was younger too. In 2014 my boyfriend bought us tickets to Japan and we’ve been in love with it ever since. I hope to move out there soon!
What are your favourite magazine and photo book shops in Tokyo?
There are so so many! Jimbocho and Shimokitazawa both have loads of amazing second hand book stores. There’s a chain of used collectables stores called Mandarake that I always find great stuff in.
What are your favourite Tokyo haunts? Where do you like to go out in the evening? Best bars? Favourite District?
I always stay in east Shinjuku when in Tokyo. For me it’s the perfect location, super close to everything but a little less chaotic than central Shinjuku or Shibuya. For nightlife, I like to find new corners of Tokyo everytime I’m there.
What are your thoughts on printed matter as we continually move into the digital age?
I really hope it survives. I don’t think I have ever read an entire online magazine start to finish — it just doesn’t compare to sitting down and flicking through physical print. The internet is amazing and has revolutionised publishing, but there’s something to be said for physical publishing, someone valued their output enough to make it a real physical object rather than a blog post.
Any particular publications you love? Or Japanese magazines you could recommend?
For current publications: Numero Tokyo / Nylon Japan / Madame Figaro / I-D Japan. I also love to collect old 90’s / early 2000’s Japanese magazines like Cutie, Studio Voice, Out of Photographers magazine etc.
Which photographers inspire you?
HIROMIX, Mika Ninagawa, Valerie Phillips, Nobuyoshi Araki, Bungo Tsuchiya, Petra Collins, Monika Mogi, Juergen Teller..!
You mentioned you’re a Sofia Coppola fan. Why do you love her work and what’s your favourite Coppola film? (Lost in Translation?!) Coppola actually spent her twenties in Tokyo taking photographs and setting up her clothing line MilkFed.
I love Sofia Coppola’s work, but I gravitate to her photography more than her movies. The cinematography in Lost in Translation is beautiful, but I just don’t love the story — the Bill Murray hype is lost on me ha! HIROMIX actually makes a cameo appearance in Lost in Translation though which is super cool! Virgin Suicides is my favourite of Sofia Coppola's movies. I LOVE the brand identity of Milkfed — I wear it every day ha! The Harajuku store on Cat Street was so cool with all her work on the walls.
What’s your dream? Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Living in Tokyo, working as a photographer and making more books — hoping I’ll be living this dream life a lot sooner than 10 years from now though!
Could you talk to us about any new work or upcoming projects you have planned?
Like most people, Covid and lockdowns have really halted all the projects and shoots I had planned. As a result I have many moodboards piled up and shoot ideas in my head. I would probably like to travel to a few cities and photograph some new girls, make a few zines and work towards my next book.
When it comes to caffeine, what's your poison?
I LOVE coffee! my Nespresso machine is one of my favourite objects in my apartment haha.