The moment you hit your 20s, everything changes. Or at least, we assume it’s meant to. It’s a transition that has long fascinated London-based photographer Francesca Allen who, through the life of 24-year-old musician Aya Yanase (also known as Aya Gloomy), a young Japanese woman living in Tokyo, hopes to reintroduce the idea of girlhood as a perspective rather than a fixed age.
"There’s this quote that always sits with me," she tells Refinery29. "It’s about girlishness and girlhood not as an age but a state of mind. And I feel that looking for girlhood is a concept in any age of woman – someone that represents something really young when they’re not supposed to be in that stage any more in their life."
Francesca, who is 25 years old, was introduced to Aya through a friend while on a trip to Tokyo back in 2016. Despite the language barrier and not knowing each other very well, Francesca quickly felt connected to Aya and decided to return to Japan the following year to photograph the young woman who she feels "embodies what my work is about".
It only takes a quick glance at the photographs to realise that Francesca and Aya became very close. The series was shot over a month during which they did everything together – meeting mates, going to gigs, hanging out and building a friendship. Surprisingly, a big part of creating normality within such intimate photographs was not being able to rely on speaking to each other. "I think a big part of it was the language barrier," Francesca explains. "Using the camera, it becomes a tool of communication. We did understand bits and we were communicating in other ways but that was the real foundation of this."
Francesca adds: "I think there’s something about having a camera there that gives an excuse to ask things of people that you wouldn’t normally ask them. It opens up new experiences, I think. We wouldn’t have spent such a close time together if we weren’t doing the photos. The camera becomes an excuse to push boundaries to see what feels comfortable for myself and who I’m photographing."
Between shots of Aya in her cluttered apartment (which sits just below her grandmother's place), her transition from rose gold to "Troll" blue hair and a picture of her idly waiting at a bus stop, we get a sense of the frivolity associated with a girlhood that we're expected to leave behind once we reach our 20s. "I feel like when you leave your teens you’re expected to leave your teens – but no one does. Everyone at 25 is still dressing like a teenager, having the same fun, if not more fun than they were having when they were younger," Francesca says. But girlishness, as Francesca relays, is a spirit that isn't tied to age. It's a perspective that Aya embraces.
Here Francesca talks us through the thoughts and context behind a selection of the photographs – narrowed down from thousands documenting the evolution of her friendship with Aya – that made it into the final book.