Taken in Essex, photographer Emily Stein’s latest series is a heart-warming tribute to one woman she found online, and who’s story she felt compelled to tell. Titled Akemi’s 100 Kimonos, the photos celebrate 60-year old Akemi, originally from Japan, who moved to England in search of a safer place for her and her young daughter.
“Akemi has lived here for a long time, however, her heart is truly rooted in her home country of Japan and this manifests itself in her extensive Kimono collection,” Emily tells It’s Nice That “each Kimono has a story to tell about her past, which she is emotionally connected to.” After getting in contact with Akemi, Emily spent time getting to know her, hearing about her upbringing in Japan; a place where “women are sexually harassed frequently” and her choice to move to England as a result.
“She told me how, as a woman, she was never allowed to show any emotion, just to obey – particularly men,” Emily recalls. “In Akemi’s words: ‘When I was in my 20s I was chosen to represent my town in a beauty contest and went to many places and parties. In those days there was no phrase for ‘sexual harassment’ in Japanese. Even now we use foreign words because there is no concept of this. In those days there were porn magazines in vending machines everywhere. While doing this work I met important people. Sometimes a man touched my breast or bottom and if I complained about this, people said that it was my fault, because I was wearing beautiful clothes. For these men, a woman is just an object.’”
Emily photographs of Akemi are indicative of her brave choice to leave her home country, in search of a better upbringing for her young daughter. Sensitive and endearing, they truly represent the life Akemi has made for herself. Akemi’s Kimonos highlight the areas of her heritage that she chooses to cling onto and honour, becoming an important motif beyond just her choice of clothing. “Her collection of 100 beautiful pieces feels like an extension of her,” Emily explains, “and I felt like this would be a lovely story to tell.”
Although it was Akemi’s Kimono collection which first intrigued Emily, it was her story that really captivated the photographer. Beyond a study of her impressive hoard of traditional Japanese robes, Akemi’s 100 Kimonos is a celebration of a “determined and passionate” 60-year old woman who fled her country to live somewhere where her daughter could express herself.
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