Photographer Yuki Aoyama first began shooting Schoolgirl Complex in 2006. As an adolescent, he found it difficult to interact with his female classmates or even make eye contact with them—so much so, he says, that today their faces are a blur. The series was inspired by Aoyama’s reflections on this inferiority complex that defined his youth: the strong feelings of desire he felt for his female classmates were accompanied by fear and anxiety, and the photos represented Aoyama’s attempt to express these complicated teenage emotions in a refined and symbolic form.
Aoyama sees traces of individuality even amid the sea of identical uniforms—legs extending from socks and checkered skirts, the backs of knees, moles, scabs on shins. Each successive shoot in the fifteen installments of the series draws the viewer more deeply into the subjects’ world. In one sequence of shots, he—desperate to recall, and hold onto, his fleeting adolescent memories—uses items like bubble tape and plastic sheets to “package” his subjects. In another, he takes his subjects to the far reaches of Iceland—a world apart from the small, constricted classrooms that serve as his usual photographic backdrop—to render images that highlight the “enigmatic” emotions girls often hold toward one another. Particularly striking is a sequence exploring what lies beneath the symbolism of the schoolgirl image, in which the subjects cast off their uniforms and, in doing so, finally break free from the schoolgirl identity that had bound them.
Over the fifteen years that Aoyama shot the series, his focus shifted from his own perspective on the girls to the girls’ relationships with one another, from the symbolism of the schoolgirl image to the girls’ individuality. This led Aoyama to do away with his initial policy of not photographing his subjects’ faces, a rule he had followed in order to emphasize their symbolic nature. Interestingly, as his concerns evolved, Aoyama’s own “schoolgirl complex” gradually disappeared, and with this retrospective compilation of the entire series, from “A to Z,” he marks the end of an impassioned journey fueled by his fantasies and fears.
Yuki Aoyama was born in 1978 in the city of Nagoya and graduated from the University of Tsukuba with a degree in psychology. In 2007, he won the Excellence Award at the Canon New Cosmos of Photography Competition. His works, including the Solaryman, Shojo raisan (In Praise of Young Girls), and Schoolgirl Complex series, focus on people with a symbolic presence in Japanese society—schoolgirls, “salarymen,” etc.—as a way of expressing his perspectives of adolescence, young girls, and father figures. He currently resides in Tokyo, where he runs a comprehensive portrait photography service called Mr. Portrait.