Mako Miyamoto doesn’t have a weird Star Wars fixation. Really. Some nostalgia lingers, he says, but only the normal amount for a 33-year-old.
Instead, the local artist’s Neon Werewolf project, an ever-growing collection of photographs of people wearing Chewbacca masks, showcases a different obsession: the importance of faces.
“Faces are the essential part of the human experience,” he says. “There’s so much character in a face.” Even a wookiee face. By day, Miyamoto is an art director at creative agency Roundhouse. In 2010, he bought a wookiee mask from an after-Halloween sale and starting using it to hone his photography skills. Friends and family enthusiastically volunteered as models, and the one-off creative impulse took on a life of its own. Today, Miyamoto’s Chewies drive, swim, and bowl around Portland—mundane activities made richly mesmerizing and occasionally beautiful by their juxtaposition with that familiar but strange visage.
“When the mask goes on,” Miyamoto says, “it lets the monster out.” As the project evolves, shoots become more elaborate. A recent session, for instance, involved a staged heist, complete with storyboards, three masks, and a borrowed Cadillac. Since Miyamoto often creates his surreal images in public places around Portland, what might be awkward elsewhere usually just ends up with onlookers asking to partake.
“No,” Miyamoto tells them with a laugh. “Strangers can’t wear the mask.”