What would happen if we shared Earth with Chewbacca and his fellow Wookies? Photographer and artist Mako Miyamoto documents the answer to that question with colorful, fun and carefully detailed shots from his Wookies / Neon Werewolf series. Miyamoto answered our questions about masks, other worlds and Star Wars.
Interview by Yetkin Nural
Can you tell us the story behind the Wookies series? What was the inspiration that gave you the idea?
As a child of the 80’s, Star Wars was inevitable a huge influences on me. George Lucas showed me an incredible universe, just past the clouds, that held untold adventures, strange monsters, and extraordinary alien worlds. It gave me hope and belief in the magic that surrounds us, and inspired me to uncover the mysteries, large and small in this world. It taught me that imagination was something to be followed. Picking up a camera as an adult, I wanted to rekindle some of that magic and mystery of my youth.
What are your thoughts on the effects of wearing a mask, and masks in general?
Faces have fascinated me ever since childhood. I used to draw them incessantly; each line, curve, and shadow carving out the details of who this person was and what they were feeling and thinking at that particular moment. With the introduction of a mask, the visual communication between people is broken, the identity of the wearer becomes another, shifting and changing into something new. With everyone who puts on the mask, I’ve found that a bit of themselves are freed with the new anonymity given; no longer tied to their former understanding of self, freed to do and become someone or something else for a moment or two. That’s when the magic happens, and a little bit of the monster is let out. At this moment the mask becomes more than hair and latex, adopting the mannerisms and body language of the wearer, and the person is allowed to become someone new. It’s in that glimpse of the other I strive to capture in my pieces.
How do you plan and create the scenes? Are there scenarios around them or story arcs between expand over different scenes/shoots?
My ideas are sparked by anything from visiting location or place, to a conversation with a friend, book I have read, or photograph I have stumbled upon. I am also an avid thrift store frequenter; I find that there is an amazing history and story behind objects, which often inspire pieces and parts of my shoots. I collect all these ideas in notebooks and sketches collected around the house. I do this until one finally bubbles to the surface, catches momentum, and pushes the wheels into motion and I begin to plan my shoots. I collect all the elements of the moment I’m trying to create; time, place, texture, light, color, and overall mood. This involves everything from location scouting, wardrobe and prop creation and styling, and just exploring with my camera. This can take anywhere from a few days or weeks, to a few months, depending on the scope of the project. During this phase of the project the ideas and concepts begin to solidify and take a shape and form all their own. Once everything is in place I run out and capture it before it disappears!
With each subsequent series and shoot I do, I’ve become more and more interested in creating a narrative and story around my characters to give them context, substance, depth, and a world and life for them to exist in. In this way I feel like I can bring them to life more faithfully and create a richer experience.
The Neon Werewolf world that I have created loosely ties together the world of the Wookies and Frank Aberdeen’s character and film (You can check out the choose your own adventure short film here neonwerewolf.tv). It resides somewhere between the 60’s and the seedy 80’s; inhabited by humans, Wookies, skeletons, and other misfit monsters going about their daily lives.
Your latest show, Further West, opened last month and the show presents a narrative around the Wookies. Can you tell us a bit about this narrative and how does Further West complement Wookies series?
This quote from Carl Sagan was a big part of the inspiration for the show and conveys the mood and sentiment I was aiming for:
“They will gaze up and strain to find the blue dot in their skies. They will love it no less for its obscurity and fragility. They will marvel at how vulnerable the repository of all our potential once was, how perilous our infancy, how humble our beginnings, how many rivers we had to cross before we found our way.”
Further West is a bit of an origin story for the Neon Werewolf / Wookie universe that I have created. It explores the moment in time that the Wookies arrived here; reframing the idea of imperialism in history, and exploring a revisionist’s vision of manifest destiny. It shows the genesis of the Neon Werewolf world and how and why they came to live along side the human race.
Your Wookies are just like humans, they do yoga, they take care of their gardens, they roller blade, cook and eat with friends. How do they -if they do – differ from us humans in daily life practices?
In my eyes the Wookies differ very little from us humans, they are living one day at a time, trying to be present in the ever passing moment.
How did you get a hold of the Wookie masks? are they sold online or someone made them?
I found the Wookie mask in the dark recesses of the internet and have made some augmentations and adjustments to make it my own.
I am guessing you are a fan if the Star Wars series. Would you give us a favorite quote from the movies?
“It’s a trap!” – Admiral Ackbar
Why do you think Wookies – Chewbacca in particular- became one of the most loved characters in Star Wars?
For me, I think that Chewbacca has become one of the most loved characters because:
He has no bad lines in the movies.
He is a badass with a crossbow.
He doesn’t have to wear any pants.
What else have you been working on other than the Wookies series? Any upcoming projects or ideas that you will be sharing with us soon?
I am working on continuing the Frank Aberdeen saga where I left off here (neonwerewolf.tv/) sometime this fall / winter. I feel the need to delve back into film and video soon, but most likely start Frank back up with a fresh photo series. I’ve also have a solo show at Stephanie Chefas Gallery (stephaniechefas.com/) next October I’m in the primary stages of planning for. Follow me at @neonwerewolf for all of the action!