“Since I’m yowayowa, it’s really heavy to carry SLR cameras around,” says Tokyo resident Natsumi Hayashi in her blog, Yowayowa Camera Woman Diary.
The petite young photographer may identify as such, but her self-portraits indicate that she is anything but weak. Gravity-defying, focused, and ethereal seem more appropriate adjectives to describe Hayashi, who has no formal training and has only been photographing regularly for about four years. According to the gallery’s director, Viviette Hunt, Richard Levy discovered part of Hayashi’s series, Today’s Levitation, at an art fair and purchased her images on the spot. Levitations is her first show in the United States.
The collection consists of seven images, all depicting Hayashi floating, hovering, and gliding her way through contemporary urban environments whilst participating in mundane, everyday tasks—such as speaking on a public telephone (yes, they do still exist in some parts of the world) or drinking from a water fountain. Her photography is far from ordinary, however. These are large, colorful images that possess a striking beauty and an innate quietness. Fascinated by the English idiom of having one’s feet on the ground, Hayashi is making a name for herself through a whimsical photographic exploration of gravity. Or anti-gravity, as the case may be.
Truly, up-and-coming attractive females making self-portraits are abundant creatures in contemporary photography. So, what makes this girl so appealing? The effortless serenity captured in Hayashi’s levitation series seems to be the primary characteristic that draws viewers to her work. Levy Gallery’s director, Viviette Hunt, described the series as “uplifting,” with a slight grin. A group of middle-aged women stood in front of what seemed to be one of the most popular images, in which Hayashi is exiting a huge train and hovering several feet off the ground. Her chin leads, her arms trail delicately behind her body, with one knee bent, looking like a modern-day Peter Pan. “How did she do that!?” exclaimed one woman. “She’s very ... agile,” observed another, in an awed voice. “If i were rich, I’d buy one ... I think they’re great!” chimed in a third. Nods of agreement all around.
Surreal imagery of figures floating or suspended in space have grown in popularity over the last several years. (Google “levitation photography” and you’ll see what I mean.) Research the subject a little further and you’ll find tons of online tutorials instructing photographers how to create these images—using Photoshop.
Admirably, Natsumi Hayashi seems to be the only well-known photographer to be utilizing the “purist method” to achieve a look of natural levitation. Instead of employing a graphics editing program, she relies on a lightning-fast shutter speed (her camera is generally set to 1/500th of a second or faster) and patient, physically grueling repetition. And she’s willing to share her techniques—her Camera Woman blog contains a fairly thorough description of her process.
Not surprisingly, I overheard two photographers at the Levitations reception discussing whether Hayashi’s images were photoshopped. Friendly banter accompanied a close inspection of a photo of Hayashi gliding weightlessly through a train terminal. The blurriness of her feet, indicating movement, seemed a reasonable clue that the image had not been meaningfully altered out-of-camera. However, neither man seemed convinced of that fact until the gallery’s director assured them that Hayahi creates her images using only her camera. And a LOT of jumping. Hayashi says that she will sometimes jump hundreds of times just to capture the perfect image—one in which her entire being appears calm and relaxed.
Across the room, a young tattooed couple admired the image of Hayashi at a public water fountain. She’s positioned herself in the air so that her body is perfectly balanced in a virtually horizontal, very “Matrix-esque” position. “She’s got mad hops!” said the guy. Indeed, she does.