Laurel Nakadate presents four girls who contort their bodies in an intense game of Twister, their faces completely hidden from the viewer. The photo is a chromogenic print with colors that appear bright. The girls take up most of the photograph. The edges and background give a glimpse into the room they’re in during this moment. Two of them lie closer to the floor on their legs while the other two stretch their arms to the ground. They all appear to be in different positions completely still, like a group of statues formed by an architect in ancient times. Yet, it’s unclear what sort of feelings, emotions, or states of mind they have as they cover their faces from the viewer. They wish to remain a mystery. What is it that is running through their minds and bodies?
As I look at them, I hear sounds coming from them. At first, the girls make sounds of pain and straining, as if they’ve been stuck in these positions for hours and have no choice but to maintain themselves, uncomfortable as they may be. Their noises are not shouts or screams but rather, sighs and moans of annoyance and fatigue, for they wish to be done with this game and regret their decision to enact the times they had when they were children and bonded over Twister. They all thought returning to this game would be a worthwhile attempt to regain the joys of their childhoods. A time when there were fewer things to contend with in life and they could just have fun. Unfortunately, time has not been kind to their bodies and it’s only during the middle of their game that they realize how big a mistake this decision was to play Twister.
As they continue to hold their positions, their sighs and moans start to turn into soft cries for help and mercy. They are unable to take any more of the pain and torture they are placing onto their bodies. The girl in the middle of the mat lying close to the mat starts to plead with the others that they remove themselves from their positions for the fun has completely dissipated from their game. Yet, despite her begging, she–along with her friends–cannot seem to break from their poses for some unconceivable reason, like they’ve all been turned to stone and cannot make even the slightest movement. As much as they try, the girls seem almost compelled to remain in their positions, pain and all, because deep down, they wish to still regain some memories of the fun times they had playing this game as children. If only that fun wasn’t buried beneath an intense layer of pain and suffering.
Then, a little laugh comes out of the girl in the blue shorts to the left. Not a laugh of sadness, pain, or any sort of negative emotion, but instead, a laugh of pure joy and happiness. She’s the first to realize that in their shared experience of body contortion and slight pain, there is fun to be had as they witness the wild ways they move their bodies and discover how much beauty there is in the human form and in the many ways it takes shape. The three of her friends hear her laughter, confused at why she is acting this way; they all think she expresses some sort of hysteria. Then, her friend looks at her face to see her laughter is genuine ecstasy. Her friend cannot help but join in the laughter as she spreads this overwhelming joy to their other two friends, finally able to understand the play of their bodies.
Suddenly, something has set a light in them and shows no signs of stopping. A bright orange flame, like one you would see in a campfire, which only continues to become brighter and brighter with more wood and time. Strangely, this flame appears to be throughout their whole body as the flame begins to expand in their chests and begins to spread through their head, arms, legs, fingers, toes, and to every other part of their bodies. For all the pain and joy they experience on the outside, there is a deep passion that drives them through their shared experience of Twister, for they support one another in every way possible, regardless of how desperate their individual efforts may seem. That passion is what has allowed them to stay as close as they have been since they were kids; even when things might seem difficult and even impossible, they always lift one another to continue their journey through life, not just as friends, but as soulmates. In this one brief moment in their lives, we are able to witness that burning passion and support they have for one another that has always existed between them, even as kids. In the end, they will persevere through the toughest moments while cherishing the moments of joy and happiness they experience.
Eventually, they look up to me. They are still giggling from their game, with nothing but big warm smiles, almost as if they welcome me to join in. It’s then I realize what the photograph wants to say to me: that our bodies are all beautiful regardless of how different we are. They do experience pain through the act of play with our friends, but that pain eventually turns into a burning flame that allows us to appreciate the concept of friendship and the support that comes from it. The girls signal that I should also view my body as they do; not as something that is simply a physical part of myself, but as what makes me unique to the eye of others. And yet, they show me that you do not need to be completely nude to prove how beautiful the form of yourself as a human is. You just need to have the will to be playful, whether alone or with friends and to accept the initial pain that comes through play. And if with friends, one will be able to light the flame within their bodies in a connection of shared joy.
I’ll admit that it is hard for me to share the same perspective of these girls. While we may be around the same age, I am a male whose form differs in many ways from the form of a female. I wear very different clothing (compared to theirs) which tends to expose very little if anything of my naked skin. There is no reason physically why I should be able to connect to their understanding of the human body’s beauty. Yet, I share the same love and respect for my body, regardless of being the opposite gender. Given the body is what makes us so human, I believe it’s best for one to take care of it if one wishes to continue living longer and enjoying life more. Otherwise, one will have a harder time living and trying to find the joys of it.
That’s not to say I understood this matter when I first observed the photograph. On the first view, I found Nakadate’s photograph to be creative, but without a clear message or concept to express. To me, it just seemed like four girls in bizarre positions in a game of Twister who at that moment do not show their faces. Part of me felt it wasn’t clear what the photograph wanted to say or rather, it was just a photograph to show an event and not tell a story. It wasn’t that I thought Laurel Nakadate was a bad photographer as I looked at this photograph. Far from it. I just felt she took this one for fun and had no interest in a message. Again, a fun photograph, devoid of any meaning.
Then, when I took another and more in depth look at it, I came to realize the complexity of Nakadate’s photo and what it says about human bodies; however, it was in my discovery of the burning flame that made me realize this photo is as much about friendship as the human form. The four girls show clearly they support one another in every movement and decision they make with their bodies during the game. Even when forced to deal with pain and suffering, they continue to support one another nonverbally through the close proximity of their physical bodies and the emotions they present with their faces to one another, whether those emotions are positive or negative. No matter what, they remind themselves they are not alone in this experience and as long as that flame is burning within all of them, they will be able to achieve their goals and wishes, eventually.
I also felt naked in the way Nakadate’s photo came to remind me of my own optimistic look at my own self, both physically and mentally. On a surface level, I feel like my entire body is exposed to everyone around me, to present the truth of who I am as a human being from both a physical and mental perspective. While it seems uncomfortable at first, I’ve actually come to enjoy this exposure a great deal. There’s always been a point where I feel I have to hide my true self and present an alternate version of my real personality and appearance to others in order to make a good impression, something that has become far more draining as I feel dishonest with myself. Then, through Nakadate’s photo, for once in a long time, I’ve returned to connect more closely with how I perceive myself through my body and with the honesty of who I truly am. That exposure after a long time is one I am grateful for, as I have in recent times been harder on myself and have even had moments where I’ve moved further away from my true being to please others that has even caused me to hate some qualities of myself. But, those sorts of thoughts have escaped my head for once after my time with this photograph and it feels great just to be able to look at my body as one of my best qualities to illustrate the truth of who I am.
However, while I can connect to the girl’s love of their bodies and how it presents the truth of themselves, it’s the burning flame within them that I still have yet to find and it might be some time before I do. Only one question remains. How do I find that flame on my own or with close ones?