Mari Sarai
Photo: Mari Sarai

A well-known fact about photographer Sarai Mari is that she transitioned to fashion photography from being a photojournalist. Much of her work is inspired by Helmut Newton for his erotically charged representations of strong women, but at the core her journalistic point of view is what draw people’s attention.

Her second book, SPEAK EASY, took her on a journey to find the true meaning of gender roles in society. Published by Damiani, Sarai celebrated all definitions of sexuality and left everything to the subjects’ raw expression, which included Clara Paget, Hikari Mori and Janice Dickinson, unveiled before her lens.

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Speaking of her new book, Sarai said, “I have become obsessed with discovering the people behind their masks. What lies hidden beneath the skin is often much more beautiful than which is projected outward. I am obsessed with hidden secrets. I break down the layers to reveal an intimate vulnerability that makes time stop.”

In conjunction with the book, Sarai will be exhibiting her work at the hpgrp Gallery in New York, featuring her provocative images. The book is gorgeous for anyone passionate about photography, but besides the imagery, Sarai is starting a conversation about sexuality and our notions towards it. The jarring images are meant to spark conversation and cause one to reflect. It’s a racy coffee table book for those who love art and debate.

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Photo: Courtesy of Mari Sarai

With the release of her book, BAZAAR spoke to Sarai about her inspiration for these controversial images and more:

What’s your motivation in creating Speak Easy?

I have always been interested in the gender roles men and women play within society. I have become obsessed with discovering the true people behind the masks.

Who is your biggest influence?

Helmut Newton.

What’s the biggest revelation you had after creating Speak Easy?

This collection of images captures the essence of who my subjects are. By celebrating all definitions 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. This is the society we live in today.

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What’s the power of femininity in your opinion?

Powerful women have a dark-side also, I like the contrast. They could be fragile and sensitive and they know that by experience. I like all strong women who have their un-freedom side which pushes them even stronger. That’s what I love about femininity.

Do you think people will see women and men differently after Speak Easy?

Of course nothing has changed yet. But it’s just a beginning to change.

Photography: Sarai Mari

Speak Easy exhibition will be held from 30 March to 15 April 2017 at New York’s hpgrp Gallery.

Opening hours: Tue-Sat 11am-6pm

By Windy Aulia
Additional reporting by Hanan Haddad