Who: Midori Tajiri-Byrd
Film by: UNO student and filmmaker Aimee Bubblis
Editor’s Note: NolaVie partners with students of UNO professor László Zsolt Fülöp, pairing them with artists, non-profits, environmental groups, and cultural entities to facilitate a live curriculum that results in a short documentary. This documentary short was made by Aimee Bubblis, a student in the Film and Theatre Department at the University of New Orleans, and focuses on the life and work of make-up artist Midori Tajiri-Byrd.
“My name is Midori Tajiri Bird, and I’m a make-up artist in New Orleans. I’m also a performer and costumer. I was always that kid who wanted to put make-up on people. People in my family don’t really wear a lot of make-up, but I was really interested in the transformation of things in theater and old Hollywood pictures. I loved the idea that you could transform yourself in anyway.
I was always the kid with big dress-up boxes of costumes and trying to do very avant-garde make-up on myself. When I was a kid I was confused and wondering, ‘Why can’t I wear these tribal marks to church? I think it looks good.’
I was already interested in costuming growing up, and that naturally translated into make-up because as an artist I wanted to play with it. I was always that kind of kid.
When I moved to New Orleans, my company closed my department. I was already here, so I thought I’d give myself a year to do all the creative things I love to do and see if I can make a living doing it. I started, like most people here, doing little gigs and creative projects. I put a lot of pots on the boiler and thought, ‘whichever one is cooking is the one we’re going to do.’ Turns out that make-up was what most people wanted. Within a year, it was enough that I could reasonably make it into a job. I’ve been doing it ever since.
I’ve been working a lot with the awesome folks at Nola Fashion Week for a few years. Sometimes we get to do a show and photoshoots with them. It’s really great, and it’s a lot of fun. There’s a lot of variety. I have friends in town that work in the film industry and strictly work with film. I tend to work less with film and more with still photography and individuals. Another thing I love to do that I’ve been doing more of lately is doing classes — teaching either professionals or everyday people how to do fun make-up on themselves or other people.
I started out hiring myself for the kinds of projects I wanted to do. Even now, keeping a portfolio fresh is important, so if you aren’t being hired for the types of things you want to see in your portfolio, just make your own [project] and hire yourself. When I say hire yourself, that means you’re doing it for free, your bartering, or collaborating with friends or other artists, but you create the project for yourself.
Being an artist in New Orleans…obviously we know that it’s a creative city, but I was thinking the other day beyond it being creative and innovative; it’s the most encouraging city. It’s encouraging because there’s a lot of D.I.Y. culture, and people encourage others to just participate — even if you don’t think of yourself as a creative or an artist — we encourage each other to go for it. Even if it’s not totally your thing, whether it’s music, art, or if your neighbor glues glitter and macaroni to his front porch we say, ‘Go on, Mr. Jones. That’s an awesome front porch.’ We encourage, or we help each other on their Mardi Gras costumes and stuff. When we know that someone is doing their best, being creative, coming out of the box, and doing whatever, how great is it to see each other trying? People will encourage each other for trying, and I think that’s fantastic.
I have the ability now to work in the salon setting at Embodyment, which I love. It’s a beautiful spa with a great atmosphere. I can do beautiful spa work there and treat brides really well, or I can go to a photoshoot with a crazy artist or some designers and work on location. I get a lot of variety.
Anyone can learn to do anything. Putting on make-up is just muscle training like anything else. It helps to have a good eye. It helps to have an artistic eye. But if you’re training to do something with sports, you weren’t born knowing how to throw a javelin, but you figured it out. If you are born with a creative ability to understand colors and composition, you have an edge over learning to make something beautiful in that way. But can someone who doesn’t think of themselves as creative or artistic learn how to do a really great smoky eye? Sometimes those people are better because they don’t have a fixed vision of how things are supposed to look artistically. Sometimes those people can come up with really cool, avant-garde creative ideas that we never would have thought of.
People who want to learn how to do it and who think they’re not good or well-suited for the creative field of make-up, don’t second-guess yourself because you might end up being better in a totally different way than you thought.
My mantra every morning is that I want to be happy and fulfilled in a creative career that I love. For me, it’s more important for me to be the kind of artist I want to be and create the kind of work that I want than it is to have a specific goal of traditional career things like a business, a brand name, or a make-up line. Focusing on the creative arts that I’m doing and what makes me and the people I love happy is what I focus on.
I think the most important thing is to be really resilient. You can apply that to any job, not just a creative one. Because of that, I don’t let set backs ruin me. There will always be disappointments that will happen throughout your career, or unexpected things you have to roll with. That’s why I say you can make any situation into a positive one if you find a way to make it work for you.
You can learn more about Midori and her work here.