I used to be you.
If I met Kikuchiyo-san, I might just smile at her and be quiet for a while. She probably wouldn’t say much either; she might just nod and smile if I spoke about anything at all. Or, she might ask me to sit with her on a park bench and we would look at the sunset in the quiet stillness.
Kikuchiyo-san is a fictional character. Rather than being in my comfort zone behind the camera, I am the subject facing the lens. The back and forth of Kikuchiyo-san being in her own home and out in the world—and the still lifes which are interspersed throughout—bring to mind my tendency to ponder things that are right in front of me, as well as things I will never understand.
When I first tried on her gray wig, the latex make-up, and her clothes, I gazed at the mirror for a long time. My initial reaction was to chuckle, but I started feeling a little uneasy soon after. The wrinkled face staring back at me resembled my own with thirty-plus years added to it. When I smiled, she smiled back at me. When I pouted, she pouted too. It was the first time I had met her, but she was simultaneously someone I already knew quite well and someone I knew nothing about.
Unlike the feeling evoked by the painting in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, looking at Kikuchiyo-san in the mirror caused me to feel a mixture of humility, humor and a sense of tender familiarity. I’m not sure when my interest in aging started, though I can think of several reasons why it is now on my mind. Small losses like my favorite corner café being replaced by a chain drug store and finding the first few strands of gray in my hair. Or, bigger losses like death of my father and the disaster in Japan a year ago in March. In June, Kikuchiyo-san will have been with me through four seasons; a reminder that time and life are always moving.
It has been a year and half since I started photographing Kikuchiyo-san and I have gotten used to dressing up as her. However, when I think of what could happen if we ran into each other in a crowded train station or during a walk in the park, I get uneasy imagining her say, “I used to be you.”