Extraordinary Places and Moments: Taishi Hirokawa
Taishi Hirokawa has worked as a photographer since the beginning of the 70s, and today, he is still a leader in both the photography and cinematography world. His artistic works have won several international prizes and have been displayed in some of the most recognized museums in Japan and all over the world. His creations exhilarate us, and allow the viewer to experience transcendent moments. We talked to Mr. Hirokawa to inquire how he captures these rare moments in time.
How did you get interested in photography?
I tried a 8mm movie camera first when I was 20 years old or so. As I was checking the film frame by frame, and observing closely the images slightly blurred or partly out of focus, I thought I should try still cameras and photography too. That is how it all started.
Which work do you think led you to your breakthrough?
It’s hard to say. My first publication SONOMAMA SONOMAMA published in 1987 for example, was much talked about both in and out of Japan. What we did was visit rural areas with a truck full of designer brands, and whenever we came across some locals, we asked them to wear the clothes, and then photographed them. It was fun! Nobody there had ever heard of Comme des Garçon, Yoji Yamamoto, nor Issey Miyake. And yet they were dressed in all these ridiculously flashy pieces originally meant for a fashion show. But curiously enough, when photographed in black and white, the personality of the wearers stood out.
You have shot nature and architecture in locations that are quite difficult to access. Where do you get all the energy and passion?
Perhaps I simply don’t think much about the consequences. When I am driven by curiosity, there’s no time to consider the risks and refrain.
As for TIMESCAPES – Infinite Melody– I wandered through various deserts around the world for 12 years, and on moonless nights, stayed in the middle of the desert and shot scenery for 24 hours, and then integrated them into one image. For the first few years, I was scared of putting myself in these environments, but then it became a pure joy. True it was hard, but at the same time there was a huge gain, and it filled me with energy. These days’ Japanese people talk a lot about “power spots,” perhaps it was that. It was a more of mental rehab for me. So it’s actually an excuse when I say I was doing it for photography.
Tell us more about your experiences in these extreme situations.
One day, when I was shooting from a fixed point, a herd of sheep crossed my sight. A few days later, an old couple with a small girl came walking and asked if I saw their sheep, so I pointed in the direction they had gone. The family apparently was not in a hurry, they sat with me for some tea and chatted with me for a while, and finally stood up and continued their journey. There are many such lovely anecdotes.
I understand you are still printing your films in the darkroom. What difference does it make to you?
When I was about 20 and was just about to start shooting, a neighbor gave me a set of equipment for darkroom printing that he was no longer using. The narrow storeroom under the staircase became my first darkroom. Ever since, I’ve always had one wherever I moved. Not all photographers would agree with me, but for me, printing is as important as shooting, and it is an indispensable process of creation.
The original print has the charm that digital printing could never have. It is the difference between jet blown inks on a paper and the creation of chemical reactions. Recent jet color printing machines are getting far better than before, but when it comes to black and white, it is far from acceptable. They are in completely different stages.
Your photographs capture very special moments. How can you be present in the right places at the right moments?
Since I don’t do it consciously, I have no idea. It must be something intuitive. Only the things that come up from the depth of unconsciousness have something to do with your sense of beauty. When your ego is working, your senses will be clouded with vanity, or shrewd “calculations” and you will lose the genuineness.
The same thing can be said with portraits too. Too many artificial effects with lighting will ruin it. Recently, I prefer to shoot under natural light as long as it is possible and improvise at the site, using minimum film. I stand there at the shooting site, at his/her home, atelier or office, without intention or plans, and there is always something remarkable, without exception.
I feel that you have captured some special moments in the “Portrait of a Family” series also.
I don’t ask them anything. I just let them be and capture the atmosphere. In the first moments they tend to ask questions such as how they should pose. They suppose that is how it should be. But I am there to crash all these prejudices, so I advise them to be totally at ease. Once they feel at home they reveal their everyday face. Whether they are getting along very well or the children on rebellious phase, no need to ask, it all shows in the photos. Photographs never lie.
See more of Taishi Hirokawa’s work below:
Photo by Yosuke Suzuki（Erz）
Text by Akihiro Tajima