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 cafe 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.
I have gotten used to dressing up as Kikuchiyo-san because it has been a year since I started photographing her. But I still feel uneasy imagining the one sentence Kikuchiyo-san could utter to me if I met her in a crowded train station or during a walk in the park: “I used to be you.”
Editors’ note: “I Used To Be You” was the winner of the grand prize in the Portfolio Category at the 2012 LensCulture Exposure Awards.