Black Lives Matter Tokyo March Moves to the Studio with Sierra Todd and Sophia Mirto

I’m on a bus heading towards Tsunan, Niigata to photograph a children’s outdoor camp and I get a message from a young fashion University student, Sophia Mirto. She said she saw my images of June’s Black Lives Matter March and asked me about featuring a few of my images in a BLM project she was working on.

It took me by surprise because there were so many photographers, videographers, and dedicated photojournalists at the event and she somehow had found my photos among the thousands of photos taken by the many folks who were there! I told her I might be interested pending a phone call for more information. In between dodging running children and water fights, we talked more about the ultimate goals Sophia had for her project. I was intrigued when she also said she was looking for a photographer to capture the art pieces she had styled and pieced together. I was even more intrigued to learn that the person who would be photographed was Black Lives Matter Tokyo’s co-founder, Sierra Todd.

The Day of the Shoot

The First Message

Sophia and I talked more in Ebisu about her ideas for the session and I had gotten an idea of what was to come. At the studio in Shinjuku, Sierra, Sophia, and I all huddle around Sophia’s very colorful art books, memo pads, and mood boards. You could hear the passion in Sophia’s voice of why a white fashion student would want to put this message of tackling police brutality, apathy against marginalized communities, and microaggressions together. Sophia is woke and ready for this session. Sierra made her approval known and we are all in agreement for what’s to happen for the next six hours.

The Initial Look

Sophia’s Final Look

The Second Look

Afterwards, Sophia’s models came in a bit later and we continue working into the day. Our lunch has arrived but we were not quite yet ready to put tools down for this next series. In this series, we’re looking at how to best represent definitions of being unAmerican and anti-patriotism. It’s easy to look at typical narratives of people who deem progressive attitudes as unAmerican but using Sierra’s voice, could a black American also dictate what is unAmerican and unpatriotic? Sophia, Sierra, and I tackled how we would go about this visually so that she could create the final look. We focused on voting rights.

Initial & Behind the Scenes Look

BTS of the upside down flag and vote image

The Third Look

Next, tacos underway, Sierra and I work on the images captured by the many photographers from the Black Lives Matter Tokyo March this past June. Numerous hobbyists, photojournalists, and anyone who documented the 3,600 person event had been contacted by Sophia herself. Just as she had reached out to me, she reached out to tens of photographers she could find on social media. With their permissions, she printed, credited, and added their photos to the dress you see Sierra wearing below. It sent a strong message of solidarity worldwide stemming from George Floyd’s untimely death in May.

The Initial Look

Sophia’s Final Look

The Fourth Look

Much to my surprise, I learned a bit. Being the fashion student that she is, Sophia’s research turned up a connection between black women and fur in the early to mid-20th century! With discriminating American policies such as redlining and segregated neighborhoods, and federal housing codes barring fair loans from being offered to black families, many black mothers and grandmothers spent their money on personal prosperity materials. Though not a home, these prosperity items were often fur! Some mothers, who were maids got their hands on hand-me-down furs from their white employers as a substitute for increased pay or fair wages. However, black mothers got their fur, for many it was often considered one of the few items of value to pass down to the next generation.

The Initial Look

Sophia’s Final Look

The Fifth Look

Furthermore, when people aren’t recognizing her as an activist and founder of Tokyo Black Lives Matter, Sierra Todd is a very unique and ambitious university student who enjoys Japanese pop culture and poppy yet punk fashion. For this next look, Sophia wanted to highlight two points: the globalization of Black Lives Matter influenced by George Floyd’s death and the local activism in Japan. Showing a slice of Japan through the paper cranes on an opened kimono with Sierra’s quirky personal fashion with the headlines of how Black Lives Matter has influenced other protests and marches worldwide, Sophia told Sierra story and her place in it.

Initial & Behind the Scenes Look

Sophia’s Final Look

The Last Look

Finally, this look focused on the current state of race relations online. Sophia, a white woman herself, stated in her own words that she is very aware of her own privilege. She wanted to use the images and headlines below to point out how white supremacy groups are thriving with little action being done to mitigate it. I was taken aback by the conversation she, Sierra, and her models were engaging in. However, not as taken back by the images we would recreate to reflect our current times. The ugly American, not touring in other countries where we are familiar with seeing ugly Americans but online actively tormenting or passively dismissing black spaces and voices.

The Initial Look

Sophia’s Final Look

In the end…

…we completed a full day of shooting and eagerly wished Sophia luck on her succeeding in sharing her message for her virtual exhibit. We all made new friends and became aware of a lot of things and feelings. I hope other international groups that are working together for human rights have the same sense of kinship and understanding as we all did.

It was a great team effort. No, I’m not tired. lol

Just to note, my post is not to offend nor favor one group over another but to show two creatives of different mediums of art coming together for a common good.

To see Sophia Mirta’s full project, take a look here.

TopTia Photography

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