09 02 2015
Hajime Kimura is a Japanese photographer born in 1982. He was raised in Chiba prefecture just outside Tokyo. Having studied architecture and anthropology at University, he began his career in 2006.
As main awards, he was selected for the Kyushu Sangyo University Prize, Fukuoka (2012), the World Press Photo Joop Swart Masterclass, Amsterdam (2012), the special prize of Konica Photo-Premio, Tokyo (2013), Vattenfall Photo Award, Berlin (2013) and Arte laguna Prize, Venice (2014).
His first long-term project ‘Kodama’ focused on a Japanese ancient tribe in the Nigata prefecture for 5 years. The book was published in 2012 and won the 1st prize of IPA Photobook Asia Award 2013 in Singapore. His on-going dummy books ‘Changjiang’ was shortlisted at the Unseen Book Award 2013 and his other book ‘Scrap Book” won the 3rd prize at Kassel Photo Book Dummy Award in 2014.
Moreover, he has also worked with a number of magazines including TIME, The New York Times, Le Monde magazine, Newsweek, The Boston Globe and Esquire.
Interview by Cassandra Tzortzoglou.
Hajime-san, I am so delighted to have the opportunity to chat you – could you tell us about your first encounter with photography?
My first encounter with photography was when I was nineteen years old, which was thirteen years ago. I saw an exhibition at the photography museum in Tokyo and thought nothing about it. It didn’t excite me at all – I actually found nothing fascinating about it. A little while after that, I discovered a bookstore and was intrigued by a photobook called ‘In the American West’. The portrait on the cover startled me, I picked it up, shocked – I had never seen anything quite like it.
From then on photography has taken me from this world to another world, I get lost in the immersion, in amongst the blur of realms.
The imagery in your first self published photobook ‘Tokyo Etude’ came from your willingness to experiment with photography. Beyond that I wonder how long did you shoot before coming up with the concept to present the images in a black box filled with prints? What considerations and motivations lead to this?
As you mentioned it was an experimental book, I wouldn’t call it “a book” though, because it is unbound. To put it simply, it is merely pieces of paper in a little black box, as you say. The idea came to me organically through the process of shooting. To keep myself motivated, I simply walked around Tokyo taking pictures of the things I saw. I developed the negatives and made the prints in my tiny darkroom at home, collecting them in a black box just like the book. It was a hobby at the time, before I started taking photography seriously.
At that time I was also studying illustration, and I was obsessed with Phillipe Wisebecker, who is a famous French illustrator. I was around 20 years old, which was an awkward transitional age – I loved any kind of art and was interested in blurring and mixing disciplines. I started focusing on both of photography and illustration, taking the process as it came and mixing the forms through experimentation. I chose to symbolise this period of time in my life as this ‘boundless’ book. By having the imagery on one side and an illustration on the other side, it represented the physical process I went through, therefore taking the viewer on my journey in some way. For a young photographer I was unsure and to do this I had to be brave, because I was not established. This process taught me that you have to experiment and take risks – it will all work out if you stay true to yourself.
There is a reoccurring theme of producing images in black and white with high contrast throughout your works. Do you see yourself experimenting with other styles in the future?
Black and white is definitely still my formula, the imagery that has moved me throughout my career has always been black and white, it has taught me how to see and understand this world. However my attitude is changing, I’ve started making a new book and in this process I’ve stumbled across difficulties in the creative process. However sometimes the stillness is an exciting process though, I like every aspect of the creative journey.
The book making process has taught me to be experimental with my photography, and if the book needs colour I am willing to go with it.
Perhaps I was stubborn in the past only choosing to shoot in black and white, limiting myself from further experimentation and the creative process. I have another upcoming project that I’m starting in Spring, and colour might be an option for this particular one.
What intentions or goals do you set for yourself when you start a project? I remember seeing your work ‘Man and Dog – The Path in Between’ at the Obscura Festival of Photography (Penang, Malaysia) last year, and it felt so honest and refreshing to me. Do you set any intentions for yourself before starting a project so personal?
Honestly, I don’t really make goals when I start my projects, I always approach the theme with a sense of curiosity and without any concrete concept. Through my experience and involvement in the story, I gradually realise what the next step is in the narrative. If I get stuck in the process, I look for a new perspective.
After my father passed away, I couldn’t show the images because I could barely digest them myself. A couple of years later, I found out that my father was adopted, I came across the registration papers by accident. Since then I have been very curious about my Father’s past and what he had been through, I wanted to trace his life.
I think my approach always changes – I remind myself that it is okay to produce what you feel is right at that time – you are not bound by the first concept you have; you must go with your gut feelings. When I am in the editing process, I imagine the story I intended to tell, immersing myself in the world of the narrative with fresh eyes.
How did you begin your project on the ‘Matagi’ tribe? Was it confronting? Could you tell us how the idea developed into the photobook ‘Kodama’? And could you explain the process that you went through while designing ‘Kodama’?
I approached the Matagi in various ways, but if I could express the encounter it in one word, it would be adoration. I was raised in Tokyo and there wasn’t much nature or any mountains around me, just a dense inner city. I turned eighteen and I traveled around the countryside on my bicycle for the first time – that feeling was amazing, I felt like I found my feet.
I was familiar with the traditional stories of the mountains from novels and I felt a connection to the countryside instantly. Since then, I have been travelling with my camera and documenting the daily life of the tribe. I made sure when shooting that I kept in mind my first encounter with this other world, and my first impressions as a stranger.
I made the book ‘Kodama’ with two other masters who where involved in the editing and design process. At the beginning I intended to include as many images of the daily life of the tribe as possible – the dummy version was 200 pages long! However, the editor and designer didn’t agree with my first edit, and we worked hard to make the book tighter – so that the contents would leave the viewer intrigued and fascinated.
Book making is never an easy process – there are many things to consider, but that also means there are many possibilities open to you. There is never a right or wrong, it is what you get out of the process that is most important.
For me, the hardest part of the process was letting go of my original concept, I intended on showing more of the tribe and their daily lives, as I mentioned, but this changed. After changing the concept we thought of ways we could build up the details, trying to keep it nice and simple to talk about the essence of the tribe I was telling the story of.
The paper we used was Japanese traditional paper, staying true to the traditional contents of the book and red was the title color – signifying blood. I didn’t approach the idea as a book, I never do. I only begin to think of the book itself in the editing process, after the process of shooting is over. Shooting is my focus, the rest comes together later.
Can you tell us what you are working on at the moment? What are your hopes and plans for the future?
Currently, I’m working on two projects; the first one is a project about my father as I mentioned – I have started looking further into the depths of his family tree. The second project is about ‘handicapped wrestling’ in Tokyo, it was established in the 90s and it really intrigues me.
I’ve been shooting the idea of handicapped wrestling for half a year now, after bumping into an older man who told me about it, having no specific ideas or intentions so far, I’m just concentrating on photographing both the life of a wrestler and the moments in between. In Spring, I am planning to start the project fresh, with the aim to perhaps explore the wrestling world in China as well.
Recently, I travelled from Shanghai to Tibet and I went up to the origin of Changjiang River. Travelling along the river, I saw the diversity of the communities, and a possibility of a book has been in my mind. I have made a rough version of a book after joining a workshop in Tokyo, so we will see what happens with that. The possibility of a book is there, but I let it fall into place organically with the hope to make something worthwhile and interesting in the end without forcing it. That’s the secret!