It’s been six years since Japanese photographer Sarai Mari released her first book, “Naked,” in 2011. With its glossy presentation, overt eroticism, and Helmut Newton-esque style, the work unabashedly proclaimed the supremacy of female sexuality. It was a woman’s world, photographed by a woman, meant to empower women.
Though originally conceived as a continuation of this series, the full breadth of images in “Speak Easy” tell an entirely different story. Mari has simultaneously opened her aperture and focused her lens: She’s no longer photographing women exclusively, but has expanded the project to include a full spectrum of genders and sexualities; and in each image she privileges not the moment of highest glamor or punch, but the very real and revealing moments just before and just after. They can be sweet, like the image of the two go-go dancers at the piano, or sexy, as Mari so dexterously masters time and time again. Others are not so easily definable, even less digestible: a gaunt young man running barefoot on gravel or a woman rejecting—but perhaps guiding—another’s touch of her breast. Is the work less beautiful or compelling because of these uncertainties? No. But it is more intimate, and this is because it “speaks” with an honesty and an ease about its subject matter without attempting to fashion a comprehensive narrative in each frame.
“Speak Easy” is a befitting title for the photographer’s most recent body of work. The visual language is softer—yes—but that doesn’t mean it’s quieter, nor should it be. It’s simply freer, easier.
Now available via Damiani Books,“Speak Easy” is an extensive study of nude portraiture by Sarai Mari with a foreward by Xeres Cooke and art direction by Miguel Polidano at Baron & Baron.