|Entre Vues : Frank Horvat - Hiroshi Hamaya|
|Born in Tokyo, on 28th March
Freelance photo-journalist from 1937.
Associated with Magnum from 1960.
Travelled to Manchuria (1940), China (1942), the north of Japan (Village in the Snow, 1946), then to Europe and the United States.
From 1973, worked on an aerial photography project, in colour, which took him to Nepal, Africa, Greenland, Antarctica, South America etc.
Lived in Kanagawa, Japan.
Deceased in 1999.
Photograph Frank Horvat
|"I like the idea that my work isn't intended only for the Earth, but for the entire Universe!"|
Frank Horvat : When I see your work - first Village in the Snow, then People of Japan, then the streets scenes in various countries and finally your aerial views from all over the world, that you call Faces of the Earth - I have the feeling that your whole life was devoted to a single project, a kind of gigantic photographic fresco, started in one spot of Japan, and progressively extended decade after decade, to wider and wider areas. Did you conceive it that way? If that's the case, and if today you consider the project as completed, you are indeed a very lucky man and a very privileged artist.
Hiroshi Hamaya : It is true that photography has not only allowed me to earn my living, but also to meet different people, to learn about animals, trees and flowers that I didn't know about, to discover many changing aspects of the Earth and the Ocean. And what's more - and that seems to me the most important - it has allowed me to approach these entities in a friendly way. In this sense I feel a privileged person.
Frank Horvat : But did you imagine, right from the beginning - even if only in a vague way - that your work would take on such dimensions? Were you conscious of a continuity between Village in the Snow, People of Japan and Faces in the Earth?
Hiroshi Hamaya : I couldn't say that I have always seen my work as I do now. For years my only purpose was to do documentary photos for magazines, without any idea that they were part of a larger project. It was as if I were carried along by a stream - even though I believed that the current was taking me in the right direction. But what you say is correct : in hindsight, the sum of my work could be seen as the result of an intention. Take all the portraits I did in the five decades between 1930 and 1980 : nearly all were commissioned by magazines and meant to illustrate particular occasions. But now that I see them all together, printed in a book, I feel as if I had always wanted to produce that book. Maybe this comes from the very nature of photography.
Frank Horvat : I said to Marc Riboud that if a Martian asked me what was happening on Earth, I would first show him Cartier-Bresson's photos, and then his own documentary work. Today I would add that if the Martian wanted to know about the physical aspect of our planet, I would show him your aerial photographs.
Hiroshi Hamaya : When I photographed Mount Everest, we were flying at 28,800 feet - which I think was a record for non-military photography. At one point, I needed a better angle, and almost instinctively I opened the door and hung out over the void. At that moment I was only thinking of my photo, but later, after we had landed, I shivered in retrospect. At the same time I said to myself that crashing into that glacier would have been a good way to die : my body would be preserved by the ice, long after the rest of humanity was obliterated by nuclear wars. And maybe one day some Martians would find Hamaya and his camera and wonder who that creature was and what it was up to.
Frank Horvat : I guess it's for the same reason - to make them last longer - that you have all your books printed on chemical-free paper. But possibly they would be even better preserved in a museum on Mars!
Hiroshi Hamaya : I like the idea that my work isn't intended only for the Earth, but for the entire Universe! But it may not be representative enough for a museum on Mars, because I haven't photographed enough pretty girls! Will you introduce me to some when I come to Paris? And can we drink to that? Beaujolais Nouveau or sake?
Frank Horvat : I would like to ask you a few more questions on this life-time project and the way it took shape. First of all about your education, your references
Hiroshi Hamaya : I am from the Ueno district, in the centre of Tokyo. When I was young, cameras were very much in fashion, as videos are now. I wanted to be a fashionable boy, a mobo as we called it, meaning modern boy. First I got a job in a photographic company. Then, four years later, I became a freelance photo-journalist.
Frank Horvat : But were you influenced by other photographers, as many of us have been by Cartier-Bresson, or as Cartier-Bresson himself was by Munkaczi and Kertesz? Did you admire any great writer or painter?
Hiroshi Hamaya : I can't think of anyone in particular. But I do remember a friend of my father's, who had been abroad and had presented me with a camera. I remember the first time I touched that object, it was like a revelation.
Frank Horvat : But have you ever been particularly impressed by any photos?
Hiroshi Hamaya : Not that I remember. I really was self-taught. At school I didn't work well, I was bad at maths, bad at foreign languages, even bad at Japanese and painting. In part, this was due to the fact that after the great earthquake, my family had to move several times, so I had to change schools. The subject I liked best was painting, but the teachers didn't approve of my experiments and sometimes criticised me in front of the whole class. Maybe my love for photography came from that humiliation: a photo is something that you develop and print yourself, in the dark, and that remains in the dark until you decide to show it. Of course, photography is less creative than painting : sometimes I tell myself that I'm not a very creative person, there isn't really anything that I can call my own creation, except maybe this house which I designed myself, and these few books I published. The fact that these objects exist gives me a little happiness
Frank Horvat : ...and you like to imagine them in a museum on Mars.
Hiroshi Hamaya : ...but at the same time I know that photography is more a matter of finding than of creating. We wander round the world trying to find things and to decide they are important.
Frank Horvat : We talked about the continuity in your work, but we must also speak about its evolution. When looking at Village in the Snow I can feel you physically close to your subjects, blinded by the same snowstorm or soaking in the same steambath. Then, over the years, you seem to move further away. In the case of the aerial photos, that may be due to your subject matter and to obvious technical reasons. But I also feel a distance when looking at your street photography in various countries, which are more or less from the same period. I'm not meaning it in any negative way : observing reality from a distance may be another way of understanding it, a point of view that comes with maturity.
Hiroshi Hamaya : It's true that I've moved further and further away - and now I'm aiming for Mars! But I don't like to think of it as a one-way movement, as you would say that an old person is moving away from this world. I have always worked by alternation. After landscapes, I photographed people. After women, men. After old people, children. While I was photographing landscapes, I also did a series on Japanese women, from Hokkaido in the North to Okinawa in the extreme South. My stability comes from change, and change means progress, according to Daiga Koriguchi, a Japanese poet who lived in France and was a friend of Jean Cocteau. I believe this, but even if change didn't mean progress, I would need it for it's own sake. Right now I'm working with an automatic camera. I don't really think it brings many advantages, but I like the change. Anyhow I've never considered photography to be an art.
Frank Horvat : Many of us say so, but I wonder if we really believe it. Saying that photography isn't art makes us sound modest, while at the same time keeping us at some distance from a dangerous area
Hiroshi Hamaya : I am overjoyed to hear that. From now on I will say that photography is art. Shall we drink to that? To our good health!
Frank Horvat : My next question may seem silly to you: how can a Japanese be an international photo-journalist? What I mean is : how can you travel round in the world, while only speaking a language that nobody understands? You may answer that, while in Japan, I am in a similar situation - but here many people understand English. Besides, I don't mean the language problem only : you Japanese seem more insular than we are, when you travel you tend to stick together, to eat in Japanese restaurants whenever you can, as if to keep a bit of Japan around you. Of course I'm thinking of tourists and businessmen, in your case it may be different. Still, when I see you sitting on a tatami in this traditional house, facing a cherry tree, dressed in a kimono and drinking sake, I can't really imagine you in any other way.
Hiroshi Hamaya : It's a fact that Japanese people are insular, but maybe I'm a bit less so than others - even though at school I was bad at English. For me, travelling abroad is no problem. Obviously, when in Paris, I don't expect to be taken for a Parisian. But in the US, for example, I don't feel very foreign. During my last trip, I travelled thirty thousand kilometres by car, and in some villages the Indians thought I was one of them and spoke to me in their language. The same happened in Alaska. The worst communication problem I experienced was right here, in Japan, while photographing Village in the Snow. In the eyes of those mountain people, I was just as foreign as you would be. It was my hardest experience, and it was how I learnt to communicate with people who are very different from me. Now I am so used to it that I don't even realise there are differences. What also makes me feel at ease wherever I am is that I never feel inferior or superior to anyone. The shoeshine man at Shinjuku doesn't impress me any less nor any more than the Queen of Sweden, who awarded me the Hasselblad prize in Stockholm.
Frank Horvat : To come back to your evolution, I have a delicate question. Out of your work, what I like best is Village in the Snow and Faces of the Earth - because they show me some aspects of the world that I didn't know and enrich me by that knowledge. I could say the same about some of your other photos of Japan and several of your portraits. On the other hand, your reportage photos abroad don't affect me in the same way. They show subjects I know already, either from personal experience or for having seen them in other photos, and they don't give me any information that's new to me - except, possibly, that distance I feel between yourself and your subject. I wonder if their message isn't precisely that distance: maybe that's how a Martian would see St. Peter's Square. What do you think?
Hiroshi Hamaya : Your criticism is justified. I was less involved in these photos than in others. Some were taken during trips I was invited on, and published simply to please my hosts, others are from my free moments between aerial photographs. I don't reject these images, I think they are honest representations of what I saw and felt. But I accept your criticism and thank you for your sincerity.
Frank Horvat : My next question is a practical one. How could you organise and finance projects as costly as these aerial photographs over the Antarctic or Mount Everest?
Hiroshi Hamaya : Some were commissioned by magazines, of course. But most of the money came from my wife's savings. A lot of money. The trip to the Antarctic alone cost 75,000 dollars.
Frank Horvat : You are a very lucky man indeed!
Hiroshi Hamaya : No longer. My wife died three years ago. To honour her memory and express my gratefulness to her, I scattered some of her ashes over the Himalayas and in the Ganges. Next year I intend to do the same in the Sahara. I would like to leave small parts of her in all the places that I was able to photograph thanks to her help. But what I would like even more is taking her so high up that she would stay in orbit and keep watching me from there. This is not just a metaphor, we used to consider it almost seriously: a few years ago, NASA announced that for a lot of money - maybe a million dollars - they could carry a small load into outer space. At the time we were thinking of my own death, and it was with that idea in mind that I half-jokingly asked my wife if she would accept sending my ashes into orbit. "We may get a discount" I said "because we only need a one-way ticket". She laughed and answered "Why bargain, we can leave the change to the astronaut, as a tip! " But what do you think of our sake?
Frank Horvat : Excellent. But I have to ask you another difficult question. I arrived in Tokyo five days ago, and I am still under the shock of what I see. Never, not even in the US, have I seen such a concentration of human beings, of energy, of wealth - but at the same time I've never felt so threatened by such a disorganised proliferation and such a lack of harmony. From a photographer's point of view it's a challenge : how can I organise this mess, or at least make it a little more understandable? Does this question ever occur to you?
Hiroshi Hamaya : As a photographer - and as a human being - I need a certain dose of solitude. That's why I live in this suburb, a hundred kilometres from Tokyo. From time to time, I like to face the city and it's people, but I need some distance.
Frank Horvat : I'll ask the question in a different way. You have spent a lifetime showing subjects that seemed important to you : the traditional life in your country, the transformations of this life, the faces of the Earth. But while you were completing this fresco, a new subject took shape, around you and right on your doorstep : this megalopolis that isn't only bigger and more populated than any human habitat ever - but totally different, with different social, ecological and psychological problems. Can this Babylon be the subject of a photographic essay? Can it be shown to the Martians?
Hiroshi Hamaya : I've thought about it. In a few days, the last crowd of the Showa era will gather in front of the Imperial Palace. I will face it and photograph it.
Frank Horvat : When the death of the Emperor is announced and the Showa era will be over?
Hiroshi Hamaya : Yes, I will photograph this crowd, but right now I prefer not to think about it.
Frank Horvat : Does that idea scare you? Do you need more courage to face the crowd in Tokyo than to hang out of a plane over Mount Everest?
Hiroshi Hamaya : I have the courage to face them, but I don't want to judge them. A photographer's role is to show what words and other forms of expression can't convey. But please have some more sake. It is very special sake, it comes from the district of Village in the Snow - which was also my wife's home district.
|Tokyo, november 1988
Interprète : Goro Kuramochi, G.I.P, Tokyo
|Translated into English by Julia McLaren.|
|Frank Horvat Photographie
Entre vues : Frank Horvat - Hiroshi Hamaya