Hiroyo Kaneko is a fellow SFAI grad and I am pleased to have the opportunity to show here work in Milwaukee. Hiroyo's work is up for one more week in MIAD's perspective gallery. Below is an interview with Hiroyo that accompanies her work in the gallery. Don't miss the opportunity to collect one of her images in the new Lay Flat publication.
How did you come to photography? How have your previous studies in literature influenced your work?
When I was in the University, I took some interesting classes about the visual arts and films. That was because the period that I was studying within the French Literature was early to mid 20th century, so, all the cultural movements were interacted each other. So I was very much interested in the relationship between writers, visual artists and filmmakers, such as Andre Breton, Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp and Luis Bunuel.
I was also into French New Wave films, especially Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut as well as Japanese film makers, like Yasujiro Ozu, Mikio Naruse and Seijun Suzuki. All those visual experiences got me in a filmmaking circle eventually and we made a few pieces. However, after everyone graduated the school, it got to be difficult to get together to continue the activity, then I naturally shifted to photography which I could do on my own.
Your work seems to deal with the intimacy of family. Do you photograph your family often? You are present in a few of the images – how did your presence in the pictures change the way you made the photographs? You became a participant as well as the observer.
First time I photographed my family (for my own project) was 4 years ago when I started this bathing series. I didn't’ particularly intend to make the portraitures of my family but used them as models because I didn’t think that strangers would allow me to photograph them naked. Besides, I needed to demand them some kind of posing as 1) I used 4x5 camera and 2) I didn’t want this work to be a documentary. So the asking my family seemed to me the only choice for the situation.
However, since then I started to include their images in my other series also. I think that the more I photograph them, the more I am able to gain the objective artistic view to them. So I’ve become less hesitant to deal with my family for my art work.
The reasons why I put myself in the pictures are several.
1) We are very small family, only 5 members.
Father, Mother, sister, her husband and their daughter, so without me, there couldn’t be enough variations in the series. Besides, my brother in law passed a way sometime after our first session. So the members are even getting smaller. (Maybe I should get marry to add a new member.)
2) People said that my sister and I (and our mother too) look alike very much. Sometimes they confuse between her and me. I thought that including myself in the images could emphasize this likeness or let them notice that we are two different people. Anyway, I enjoy the viewers’ reactions and showing the irresistible resemblance within a family.
3) Because I use their naked bodies for my work and expose them in public, so I would feel guilty if I hided myself just behind the camera.
What is the cultural and personal importance of the bathhouses in your work?
After I moved to San Francisco from Tokyo in 2002, I experienced severe difficulty in communication with others. This doesn’t mean that the people in the US are severer than people in Japan. I guess that any communities in the contemporary society should be same more or less, even within families. But to me, it looked more obvious in here because I was a stranger, had the language barrier and faced the cultural differences, etc. However I also became more grateful and found it precious when it worked well. For those reasons, I got interested in seeing how we had raised the way to communicate each other, what would make our emotional interaction happen. Rather than showing the tough side, I wanted to show something more neutral, basic or more positive and warmer aspect of it. Then I came up with the idea of photographing people in bathhouses in Japan which seemed to me an ideal setting for my purpose.
Bathing in hot tubs is one of the most ordinary daily rituals and habits in my country. Since our society is highly competitive and reserved, we are urged to live extremely uptight. However, once we soak ourselves in hot water, we emerge relaxed, revitalized, and perhaps relieved through exchanges of unspoken emotions with others and nature.
We take bath with family, friends, strangers and sometimes men and women together showing subtle impressions which waver between vulnerability and flexibility, openness and hesitancy, and intimacy and loneliness. Through this project, I focused on capturing those subtle and ambiguous expressions of human beings in the middle of moments because I think that they represent the fundamental humanity regardless who they are.
What role does the element of water play in your work?
It represents both nature and culture. It also brings a sense of movement and flexibility.
The photography itself is fundamentally related to water which the photographic process needs for the production. So I believe that the element of water and photographic images are compatible each other.
Can you talk a little about the light and color palette in your photographs?
In terms of the light and color, I am very much influenced by painting rather than photography, I suppose. Especially the paintings by French impressionists especially Manet and Cezanne (also Renoir and Bonnard too) teach me how I should deal with the natural light and color that are reflected from the subjects.
There is a sense of movement in all of the images – it heightens my awareness of time and gives softness to the pictures. Can you talk about this observation?
I’m very glad that you see that way. In my work, I always try to consider “time” more important than “space” although the photographs are actual rectangular spaces. I believe that this is one the most interesting aspects in photography. We can express something invisible and uncountable quality (= time and softness in this case) through the visual images of objects printed on such a small space.
Is this an ongoing series? How do you know when you are done with a project?
I will probably take a break to photograph my family in this setting a little while but am planning to continue the project in different places with strangers. Now I am doing some research where and how I can do it.
What is next for you and your photography?
To make photographic series in the US.
Who are some of the photographers/artists that have been most influential to your works development?
Besides the artists that I mentioned earlier,
Jean Marc Bustamante, French artist/photographer known by his landscape series “Tableau”
Kineo Kuwahara, Japanese photographer in 1940’s to 80’s, known as his snapshots of pedestrians, downtown Tokyo.