Hiro Obituary | Fashion photography

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The biggest surprise of photographer Hiro’s images of the 60s and 70s is not their unprecedented imagery, but the fact that these images were made by hand from the main elements of photography. He uses light adjusted to the millimeter, in particular to project famous faces into the shadows; shutter speed calibrated to the millisecond; and used color filters, multiple exposures for a kinetic effect and unlimited patience in the darkroom, to compose his imaginations. He also pushed live owls, ants, and fish, as well as tricky top models, to pose in the particular way he needed. His influence can be seen in most fashion photography today, but with the effects now achieved digitally, without Hiro’s planning and savage spontaneity.

Hiro – short for Yasuhiro Wakabayashi – deceased at the age of 90, was a photographer before and long after his decades in fashion, but it was his experimental shots from the early 1960s, especially for jewelry commercials, that transformed the way these luxuries have since been viewed, as sculptures in a landscape, or witty accessories. Anything could and would be introduced – a ruby-adorned ox hoof, an owl (fed a living mouse to ensure cooperation) amused by a jeweled frog. After Hiro, it was the norm.

A gold Elsa Peretti cuff modeled on a bone, with a ladybug, 1984. Hiro never used digital enhancement to produce his sublime images. Photograph: Hiro / c / o Hamilton Gallery in New York

Hiro’s take on glamor was about mood, a state of mind – it allowed models a visible inner life – rather than the grand narratives of the social context that dominated magazines from the late 1940s to the 1950s. Its use of color was more daring than that of Erwin Blumenfeld and, supported by new printing inks, it was designed for hard-hitting magazine covers. His beauty shots, centered on the foot or the face, were more tactile than those of Irving Penn; the toes Hiro photographed for a Vogue podiatry feature touch hot, rough stones and slithy octopus tentacles, and you feel their textures with your eyes.

Hiro’s journey to becoming a great American photographer, though unrecognized, was more surprising than his photos, and his darkness and deprivation underlined his imagination. He was born in Shanghai, where his college father wrote a Chinese-Japanese dictionary and possibly spied for his native Japan. His parents and four siblings lived there until Japanese troops invaded the city in 1937, when they were sent to occupied Beijing (now Beijing). There, the boy attended an army-controlled school until at age 14 he was drafted into the Japanese occupation army in its last, most brutal phase. After the Japanese surrender, the family was interned, then returned to Tokyo, where a million people were left homeless after the US bombing of March 1945. The Wakabayashis had $ 3 and the things they carried. They dug a trench, covered it with corrugated iron, and it was their home.

Self-portrait, 1990, by Hiro.  The darkness and deprivation of his youth underpinned his imagination.
Self-portrait, 1990, by Hiro. The darkness and deprivation of his youth underpinned his imagination. Photograph: Hiro / c / o Hamilton Gallery in New York

Hiro was more educated, but, like other Japanese during the American occupation, his real education was in American culture, exceptionally through the photographs in glossy magazines thrown out by guests of American hotels where he worked, or by the wives of the officers he taught. Japanese. All Americans seemed to have cameras, and Hiro acquired one, his subject being the strangeness of his resurgent city. His dreams were of the United States, mostly of the style photographed by Richard Avedon. After years of devout savings, and despite the family’s disapproval, in 1954 he traveled to Los Angeles, then crossed the continent by bus to New York, determined to work for Avedon.

It actually happened, within two years. Hiro quickly dropped out of photography school (he already had a unique perspective) and worked as a teacher of commercial photographers before the Avedon studio offered him an apprenticeship. This did not last long as Avedon saw that his pupil was already a complete original, and in 1957 persuaded his own commissioned editor, Alexey Brodovitch, artistic director of Harper’s Bazaar, to use the beginner’s work. Avedon and Hiro shared a studio for years on an equal footing and Hiro took over from Avedon as lead photographer at Harper’s in 1963. They were never rivals, both independent in the city after Hiro took over. created his own studio. Avedon remained Hiro’s No.1 fan and promoter.

Fashion paid well, especially jewelry ads: Hiro photographed the designs of his friend Elsa Peretti for Tiffany’s for almost 40 years until 2020. him visual license, his adventurous abstraction was old-fashioned, too subtle and introverted for one. world of raw bling, branding and models. In the 90s, magazines often reverted to cataloging enviable products, as they did before the Avedon and Penn 1940s revolt.

Hiro used a live owl for his photo of a David Webb jewel in 1963 © HIRO
Hiro used a live owl for his photo of a David Webb jewel in 1963. Photograph: Hiro / c / o Hamilton Gallery in New York

Hiro’s spontaneous side loved reporting, although the results often looked polished; when Harper’s declined his offer to cover the Apollo 11 moon shot in 1969, he still went to Florida and shot near-abstracts in light of the explosion. Harper’s has entrusted its editorial pages to the best. (He loved space, and his photo of a rack of astronaut training suits, cramped like it’s already in a capsule, is an enduring image of NASA.)

He also took quiet celebrity portraits and technically accomplished images for gallery sale, with no day going by without a photo being taken. Hiro could enter an image so deeply that Avedon described him as sitting motionless for hours staring at a footprint, as if in Zen meditation.

Hiro’s return visits to Japan were few, camera in hand, and he became a naturalized US citizen in 1990. He married Elizabeth Clark, a set designer, in 1959, and her, their sons, Gregory and Hiro, and a sister, survive him. .

Hiro (Yasuhiro Wakabayashi), photographer, born November 3, 1930; passed away on August 15, 2021


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