Review by Gerhard Clausing •
The categories of genders and gender-related behaviors and preferences are not as binary as some would have us believe. According to Western psychology, we all have both male and female sides; either side can predominate or be more pronounced at times in individuals. The same is true of a variety of cultural behaviors, attitudes, and preferences, where many differences can be observed. An era of greater tolerance and a lessening of fear of the ‘other’ would be a welcome change in this regard; clinging to very narrowly defined historical edicts creates more conflicts rather than a productive shared planet. It is in this spirit that we welcome Yuki Kihara’s new book, Paradise Camp, which provides much historical background, as well as many visual surprises and other insights and interpretations. The project has been expertly compiled and edited by Natalie King.
In Pacific Islander societies, the fa’afafine (‘third gender’) has long been accepted; these are individuals who are born male but have a stronger female behavioral repertoire, “in the manner of a woman.” We also know that in ancient Greece female roles in theatrical presentations were played by men. Drag shows and other female costuming and behavioral ‘assumption’ have played a role in modern entertainment as well (for instance, in the play Charley’s Aunt or in the movie Some Like It Hot). Similarly, some of the Polynesian scenes of “paradise” especially by the painter Gauguin showed people of nondescript gender in various social roles, relating to each other, parenting, etc. Alternate myths about the beginning of human existence also show different views, so that our forerunner female was not viewed as a product of Adam’s rib at all (see image 3 below). Needless to say, part of the colonization effort involved the suppression of such prior beliefs.
The photographic interpretations by Yuki Kihara that are related to the paintings of Gauguin are particularly fascinating. A part of her work that challenges cultural/colonial stereotypes and gender/sexual pseudo-predictability, these photographic studies exude a very exotic and pleasant calmness; we get a feeling that the individuals portraying these roles are at ease with themselves and the world, and not as harassed and stressed by daily life as we might be – is that part of the “camp” presentation, a false sense of all’s well in paradise when actually things are bubbling below the surface?
The book is a combination of images and essays that allow us to interpret a multitude of these issues through a historical magnifying glass and through public performances and exhibits in our time, including at the 59th Venice Biennale in 2022. We see Kihara performing the role of Salome on the stage (image 4). Fa’afafine poetry and interpretive essays help in providing us with an enlightening overview of these complex issues, not the least of which is the decolonization process. This book is very well designed, with many surprises and graphically appealing variations. Much expertise has gone into the production of this book – even the endpapers are based on a native pattern. To get a better understanding of all this, get the book, read the essays, and study the various visualizations. You will find that this combined project may allow you to extend traditional horizons with an expanded, more open attitude.
Gerhard (Gerry) Clausing, Associate Editor of the PhotoBook Journal, is an author and photographer from Southern California.
Yuki Kihara – Paradise Camp
Photographer: Yuki Kihara (born and lives in Sāmoa)
Editor: Natalie King
Publisher: Thames & Hudson, New York, London, and Port Melbourne; © 2022
Essays and Texts: Caren Rangi, Natalie King, Dan Taulapapa McMullin, Ngahuia Te Awekotuku, Coco Fusco, Yuki Kihara, Elizabeth Childs, Chantal Spitz, Patrick Flores, Daniel Satele, Fanny Wonu Veys, Jacqueline Lo, and others
Language: English, plus a variety of indigenous terms explained in a glossary
Hardcover, illustrated, sewn; 176 pages, paginated, with 124 images; 8.75 x11.875 inches (22 x 30 cm); printed and bound in Thailand by Imago; ISBN 978-1-760-76255-1 (US)
Photobook Designer: Ashlea O’Neill, Salt Camp Studio
Articles and photographs published in the PhotoBook Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoBook Journal staff and the photographer(s). All images, texts, and designs are under copyright by the authors and publishers.