Can You See What I See? Through the Eyes of Sarai Mari

Sarai Mari is a Japanese fashion photographer who has worked in New York, London, and Tokyo. After beginning her career as a photojournalist, Mari transitioned to fashion photography, her work appearing in publications like Interview, Harper’s Bazaar International, Porter, Numero, and Vogue Japan. Over the years, she’s photographed the likes of Adele, Tom Hiddleston, Amy Winehouse, Scarlett Johansson, and many more. Much of her work is inspired by Helmut Newton for his erotically charged representations of strong women. Mari’s book Naked, a monograph of female nudes published in 2011, is the culmination of two years of work around the subject of femininity and female sexuality, the book is suffused with Mari’s provocative interpretation of female strength.

Sarai Mari
Image: Sarai Mari

In March 2017, Mari released her second book via Damiani Books, Speak Easy, inspired by the gender roles men and women play within society. By celebrating all notions of gender and sexuality, the previously defined terms fall away — they lose their meaning and there is nothing left but the raw expression of the subject in the image. Subjects featured in the book include Clara Paget, Hikari Mori, Janice Dickinson, and Sonoya Mizuno.

Sarai Mari
Image: Sarai Mari

How do you define your womanhood?

I define my womanhood by my work and my quality of life. I’m the mother of a 6 year old boy, and I’m a wife. I work as a female photographer all over the world. I work to achieve a good balance when it comes to my quality of life as a mother and working woman.

What is your profession?

I am a photographer.

Sarai Mari
Image: Sarai Mari

Who do you look up to?

I look up to legendary iconic photographers like Helmut Newton, Diane Arbus, Jeanloup Sieff, to name a few.

Which do you value more: love, or work?

Both. I think love and work can reflect each other. I have to have both. I can’t pick one.

How would you define your lifestyle? Choose any from the following:

  • Luxurious
  • Minimalist
  • Exciting
  • Humble
  • Ambitious
  • Adventurous
  • Unpredictable

ALL! I especially identify with adventurous!

What inspires you?

Nature, music, photo/art exhibitions, book signing events, book fairs.

What is your dream holiday getaway?

To take a road trip across midwestern America.

What are your favorite beauty tips?

Facial massages, exercise (kick boxing) to sweat!

What makes you feel empowered, and when do you feel most empowered?

Whenever I land a big job with a big client. I feel especially powerful when the shoot is successful with great results at the end of the day.

Sarai Mari
Image: Sarai Mari
Sarai Mari
Image: Sarai Mari

Using any kind of descriptor, how would you describe your look?

70’s rock – my attitude, my hairstyle, short black booties, denim with rock T-shits, that’s my uniform.

Do you feel that it’s important to stay up to date with technology? How do you interact with technology around you?

It’s a natural part of my life, especially with my iPhone 8. I shoot with a digital camera all the time, so it’s also part of my job.

Are you someone who considers future trends, today? If so, how do you stay ahead of the trends?

Yes and no. I love networking with different talented people to catch future trends through them.

What does photography mean to you ?

It’s a record of my life.

Why do you take photos? And what message do you want to convey to your audience through your work?

It’s my profession and my life. The message of my work is primarily focused on pushing limits, to reach the unopened doors not only through photography but as humans. I want to make people aware of how much we can do.

Sarai Mari
Image: Sarai Mari
Sarai Mari
Image: Sarai Mari

What is the most exciting shoot you did?

The little story I shot in New York around 2000. It was the beginning of my carreer to find my style. Before I shot this story, I was working on my style of photography which direction I should go to. So when I shot this story, I learned a lot about how my photography would evolve and focus over the next 2 decades. It’s a special feeling to shoot something and feel connected to the universe and galaxy, as an artist. You can’t describe what it is but you feel it in your blood, with goosebumps coming up in your body. I felt like “this is it.”

Sarai Mari
Image: Sarai Mari

You have published two books. What are they about and why did you create them?

The first book NAKED was published in 2010 by Seigensha in Japan. It was the very first book I’d ever published. It’s intended to empower women’s voices. I always wanted to publish my own book and the timing came together very well. The second book SPEAK EASY was published in 2017 by Damiani in Italy. It’s for celebrating all definitions of gender and sexuality. I am an art photographer and often have a few different life projects going on at the same. Once one is completed, I push it out to the world with my message. Expect more to come next year.

Has being a mother changed the way you work?

Yes, it has changed my life and my work a lot. I am not a little girl any more. I have less flexibility for my time and have to face myself more and more. I take care of my photography and care deeply.

Sarai Mari
Image: Sarai Mari
Sarai Mari
Image: Sarai Mari

You have worked in Tokyo, London, New York. What elements do you love the most from each city?

Tokyo makes me very energetic and fast. London inspired me with lots of creativity. New York teaches me how to make money.

What does Christmas mean to you and how do you plan to spend this year’s holiday season?

Christmas is a fun time and makes me feel like a little kid. I get excited every year. I’ll have a home party at my mother’s house in Nara, Japan.


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