Shibuya Unmasked
Project info

Stand on the corner of Tokyo’s famous Shibuya crossing - just as photographer Oleg Tolstoy did for his new series Shibuya Unmasked - and one sight becomes strikingly apparent: the faces of many of the crowd are hidden.

The face mask is a common sight in Asia, but while the polluted air of many major cities is a primary cause, when Oleg asked strangers in Tokyo why they were covering their faces, he received some unexpected replies: “I thought I’d get a lot of people telling me they were sick or suffering from hayfever, but actually, many were perfectly healthy. They chose to wear masks because they had low self-esteem, didn't like there features, had bad skin or weren’t wearing makeup. This is a city famed for its sense of style, but even in the young, chic area of Shibuya, the uniformity of the white surgical mask is unmistakable. It seemed like these people are deliberately attempting to hide in public. I later spoke to a girl with a social media following who admitted she doesn’t want her fans to spot her".

Viewed as a series, Shibuya Unmasked can feel overpowering: a surreal advertising campaign from a warped and dystopian future. However, Oleg’s use of close crops to give us a voyeuristic chance to examine each face in a way we’d never be able to if it passed us in the street. We’re challenged to look closer to understand expressions, thoughts and emotions. A testament to the power of eyes and vision, Shibuya Unmasked demonstrates that we can never fully mask our personalities, no matter how literally we try.