Interview with Photographer Hideaki Hamada
About Hideaki Hamada
Hideaki Hamada is a full-time photographer based in Osaka, Japan. When his eldest son Haru was born he became aware of his photographic tendencies and it ended up becoming a key part of his life. Although a lot of people may be aware of his series ‘Haru and Mina’, documenting the lives of his two children, he’s also been involved in a lot of other photographic projects for publications like Kinfolk, Homeland China and The Big Issue Taiwan.
Interview date: 15th of November, 2013
1. Have you always been interested in photography? Or is it something that came later in life?
I started to shoot when I was in high school. Shortly after my elder son Haru was born, I became more aware of the act of shooting. Essentially my works ‘Haru and Mina’ are documents of their growth record. Also, I want to take photographs of them so that they will be able to feel something when they grow up. I think these photos will be like gifts to them in the future.
2. One of your main and most popular subjects are Haru and Mina, your two children. Why do you think they inspire you so much and have made up the bulk of your work to date?
My children are not only my little darlings but off-shoots of myself. When I look at them, I have a strange feeling – as if I am watching myself re-living my life. What I want to show is their “living form”. Children always act more than I expect. The inspiration for my photography comes from this sort of behaviour.
3. The whole photographic process must be quite spontaneous for you? Do you mainly capture things that happen in front of you?
Though I direct some of my photographs, in most cases I take pictures of my children just as they are. When I take photos of my children, the important thing is to maintain an objective perspective. Not too close, but also not too far away, as if I am watching them from behind. Something close to mere observation, I think. Obeying this rule gives the photos a universal quality. I believe that this universality is necessary to communicate their living forms to someone else. I think I wouldn’t notice a lot of things if I weren’t their father.
4. I’m not sure if anyone has asked you this before, but I wondered if your children ever get moody when you try to photograph them? They always seem so happy …
The answer would be similar to that in Q3. They don’t get moody because I usually photograph them just as they live their everyday lives freely. But they do say things like “Aren’t you finished yet?” when I ask them to move in a way that I can attain a certain photographic composition. I then have to talk them into enduring a little longer by saying, “I’ll buy you sweets later.”
5. I also wonder what they will think when they’re older, taking a look back at all the old photographs. Is photography something that you have encouraged your kids to partake in as well? Instead of being in front of the lens, maybe behind it?
It looks as though they too enjoy taking photos. In fact, my elder son Haru has an Instagram account (@haruhamada) where he regularly uploads photographs he has taken intentionally. I also encourage him to use film cameras as well as an iPhone because I believe that taking a limited number of pictures helps him to acquire an important sense he will need later in his life. To my surprise, he is only eight and is fully aware of how his photos are shared by people around the world and how they are perceived. It was unthinkable when I was a child. Also, I am always amazed by the children’s perspectives and ideas, and I am in fact learning a lot from them.
“I hope to share through photographs such memories and feelings which all of us human beings have in common.”
6. One thing I really appreciate about your photography is that you’re not restricted to one format exclusively. Why do you think all these different ways of taking a photo appeal to you, are you just trying to express yourself in any way possible?
There are three main cameras I use. They are Pentax67II, which is a medium format film camera, Canon EOS 5D MarkII, which is a digital single-lens reflex camera, and an iPhone. I use Pentax67II for artistic works, Canon EOS 5D MarkII for client work, and the iPhone for snapshots and instantaneous photographs. In this way, I use different cameras depending on the purpose and situation. I use both film and digital cameras equally as they each have advantages.
Pentax67II in particular is special to me as it has changed my attitude towards photography. I can take only 10 photos with each film. This restricted condition keeps me aware of how I should produce worthwhile photographs. I really think that this camera has made the ‘Haru and Mina’ series possible. I used this camera exclusively to take pictures in this book. I have to say, however, that cameras are merely tools for me to express myself. What matters are the process, thinking, intentions and attitude, and I believe that one must not depend on the performance of the camera itself. Such an attitude will enable you to take unique and original photos. Conversely, without it you can only take pictures which someone else has already taken, even with the most expensive, highly-functional camera.
7. In what way does Osaka differ from your home town of Aawaji Island, Hyogo? Also, does your current location inspire your work in any way?
Awaji is my beloved hometown where I spent the first 18 years of my life. It is a small island in the sea and a wonderful place with beautiful nature and tranquil rural landscapes. The place I live now, on the other hand, plays an important role for my children, rather than myself, as my children are living here in the present. When they are grown up, they will remember the childhood they spent in this house.
I often hope as I photograph that they will feel something from the pictures of this house when they look back on their childhood. The world expressed in ‘Haru and Mina’ might have the landscape I saw as a child as its base. It is the landscape my children are viewing right now as well as the landscape I once saw myself and perhaps anyone in the world has seen in just the same way. And the children in it might as well be me or you. I hope to share through photographs such memories and feelings which all of us human beings have in common.
8. Talking about inspiration, are there any photographers that you really admire or look up to?
“Children in China” by Ryoji Akiyama, “All The Days and Nights” by Doug DuBois Works for Kinfolk by Parker Fitzgerald. In particular, “Children in China” by Ryoji Akiyama has a similar approach to the method I adopted to produce ‘Haru and Mina’. I have a great deal of empathy and respect for this photographer.
9. I’m sure many of our readers will be intrigued to hear what camera lens you actually use. Do you have a favourite that you always turn to?
Pentax 67II, 105mm F2.4, KODAK PORTRA 400. Canon EOS 5D MarkII, SIGMA 50mm F1.4 EX DG HSM. iPhone 4S, VSCOcam
10. I can imagine when you photograph in film you’re waiting for those ‘aha’ photos, the ones that just click. What happens to all the throwaways that don’t turn out the way you wanted?
I have various media through which I can publish my works such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Flickr and blogs. Each of those SNS has slightly different type of followers. I try to use each medium to publish different kinds of photos I have taken, so that all of them will be seen by as many viewers as possible equally. For example, I might upload the best cuts on Flickr, the second best ones on Instagram, and funny ones which are not so bad on Facebook.
11. Last year you released your first book, with the format of it being ‘Hideaki Hamada’s Family Album’. What were the challenges when producing this book?
This book was produced for a big exhibition held in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. I had only two weeks to put it together, printing included, and there was only enough space for 100 photographs due to the restriction on the number of pages. So the obvious challenge was that I had to select 100 photos from the enormous number of my works. In addition, I directed on the design of the front cover and inside pages, and decided the order of the photos too. In this process, I had to communicate via email only with the actual production staff based in Taiwan. I was concerned about how it would work. When I saw the finished product, however, I was really happy about the quality of the printing and the overall finish of it. Although you can purchase this book only in Taiwan and in some specialty book shops in certain countries at the moment, I would like to make it available anywhere in the world one day.
12. You were also picked up recently by Kinfolk magazine, and you’ve been making quite a few appearances around the web lately. How does it feel to have your photographs viewed by different creatives all over the world?
My works have always been viewed more by people overseas rather than in Japan. It is my pleasure that even more people can see my photographs thanks to those media. Interestingly, Kinfolk drew Japanese people’s attention to me and my works. The growth of internet has enabled talented artists to engage in art activities beyond national boundaries. On the other hand, it is still difficult for art to prevail in Japan. In this view, I would like to focus more on the activities in Japan as well as abroad in the future.
“I feel that, in this consumeristic time, the worldwide momentum of reconsidering the essence of things is building up all the more.”
13. What do you think the future of photography will be? Especially now that most of us have camera phones in our pockets at all times …
In this digital age when we have such easy access to digital cameras and internet, I expect that people achieve a higher level of photography literacy, and that more people will rethink the significance of each photo as they produce and share so many of them. I feel that, in this consumeristic time, the worldwide momentum of reconsidering the essence of things is building up all the more.
For previous generations, the film camera was simply taken for granted. Everyone loaded their cameras, got their films developed and photos printed by photo studios. It was an era when people poured their energy into photography for its own sake. However, while the number of snapshots has increased due to the spread of digital cameras and mobile phones, I feel that we are gradually losing that experience of absorption in photography itself. Recent cameras have become ever easier for people to use and have a wide variety of functions besides just taking photos. If it becomes no longer necessary even to focus my camera on an object with my own hands, I wonder what the photography of the future will be.
In film photography, you will certainly experience a feeling of excitement while you wait for your photos to develop. Perhaps you fear that you may not have taken the photo skilfully. Therefore, waiting to know if you succeeded or not is inconvenient and troublesome. But this waiting time is necessary. That is to say, it is a stance we take toward photography. The reason we like film cameras is that film somehow creates an appealing atmosphere. At the same time, however, digital cameras are convenient and have many useful functions. Both approaches are valid and worthwhile. But this is not exactly what I want to talk about here. I do not simply want to revisit the now-familiar debate over film vs. digital photography.
Photography has the potential to capture the amount of time and conscious effort we put into it. It has nothing at all to do with analogue vs. digital methods. It depends on what you want to take pictures of, and what you aim to do. But if you enjoy photography, I may have a hint for how to think of it and spend your time doing it. Even when we use digital cameras, we may later notice something different if we can just break the habit of looking at the photos as soon as we have taken them. This is neither meant as criticism of digital cameras, nor as praise of film cameras. I just think that we need to take the time to think deeply about the process of taking photos. I believe that, in future, a new concept will be born which shall be a combination of the techniques from old times and the latest technology to save photographs.
14. Do you have a particular photograph that you are most fond of, if so which one and why are you drawn to it?
It will be the one I chose for the front cover of my book. I absolutely love it. It is just a picture of my children on a tree, but what they are looking at may be a future. I want to watch how my children grow into adults, what jobs they get and what kind of family they build. I want to watch how their children grow up too. It can be quite difficult to imagine your own future clearly. However, I can somehow imagine many things when I look at my children through a camera finder. They will probably fall in love with someone one day, and they may get married and have children, just as I did. I will then be a granddad and play with my grandchildren. When I think this way, it is as if the uncertain, blurry future were given a contour. Photos of my children have such power, and I particularly like this one because I think it represents this very idea of mine.
15. Finally, what projects are you currently working on? What would you like to experiment with in the future?
Now I’m working for “Shodoshima Hishio-no-sato+Sakate Port PROJECT” as a documentary photographer. It’s the part of Setouchi Triennale 2013. With the concept “Relational Tourism,” this project creates projects with the collaboration between creators and local people in Sakate and Hishio-no-Sato area. I visit Shodoshima Island weekly to take numerous documentary photos of the local people and the creators relating and communicating with one another. Recently this project has won a Japanese “Good Design Award 2013”, and its approach has been receiving a lot of attention. I feel as though I have great responsibility to fulfil through photography.
On a different front, I would like to launch a series of ‘Haru and Mina’ in Japan and open an exhibition. I also wish to continue to work overseas and hold more exhibitions. I would like to tour around the world if possible to create opportunities for more people to view my works. I look forward to meeting you one day in the town where you live! Thank you.