Women of Independence is a documentary photo series that focuses on eighteen Japanese professional pole dancers and burlesque performers.
Since I was born, my brother and I were constantly surrounded by independent women from all walks of life. My mother, an extremely independent woman, raised my brother and I on her own in Battle Creek, Michigan. As a result, to this day my brother and I always believe deeply in gender equality.
While living in Japan over the past five years, however, I've noticed that not everyone is respected. In particular, women are not treated with the same degree of respect as men. Women are often seen as submissive and dependent and not being able to think for themselves. This came
as a real surprise to me, but I also understood that the seeming submissiveness of Japanese women does not describe the entirety of the Japanese society.
Later, a friend mentioned to me that burlesque was popping up all over Australia. I asked one of my good Japanese friends if she knew any Japanese performers and by a stroke of luck, I was then thrust into this world of women who are proud to be who they are while wearing the bruises, pride, and the hard work of their art on their bodies. They live by their own rules and train to do the craft they love. Despite traveling internationally and being recognized around the world, I found it odd that they were only known in certain circles in their own country.
So I started photographing these burlesque dancers who uphold the ideal of feminism being women’s freedom of choice. The career as a burlesque dancer will never be as glamorous as it may appear to an outsider, but these women are proud of what they do, because it is their choice and no one else's. Many people misjudge this profession, but in fact there is no stripping that occurs during their performances. It's all about the show that they themselves came up with. After seeing so many people writing burlesque off as performances that show women as sex objects, I decided I'd prove them otherwise with my own photography.
The goal of getting people to know and understand the stories behind these burlesque dancers was what carried me through. Taking photos of these eighteen women on and off the stage while also interviewing them was nothing short of a life-changing event for me. I found myself growing as a person after hearing about their struggles and understanding how they rose to every challenge.
I can't say enough how these independent women have inspired me to pursue my dreams harder than before, and it's an honor to share their stories with the world.
Women of Independence is independently published and released by my own company, Rising Up Studio. It is available now on blurb.com (ships internationally) and will soon be in bookstores