Hisaji Hara

Hisaji Hara was born in Tokyo in 1964 and graduated from the Musahino Art University in 1986.  In 1993 he emigrated to the United States and worked as a director of photography for television and documentary film before returning to Japan in 2001. He is most famous for acclaimed series entitled ‘A Photographic Portrayal of the Paintings of Balthus’ (2006 – 2011.) In this series he aims to recreate and reinvent some of these, iconic and somewhat unusual paintings by Polish-French artist Balthus, from 1908 – 2001, but instead using his camera to create his own staged tableaux within his photographs.

Appropriating the adolescent subjects and poses featured in Balthus’ canvases Hara pays particular attention to posture and expression.  The setting and costuming, however, are uniquely Japanese.  Thus the artist culls from the suggestive vocabulary of the originals while playing with the strict architectural formalism and Lolitaesque obsessions that anchor the work in Japanese cultural traditions. (Danziger gallery, 2014.)

Above - Hisaji Hara. Below - Balthus 'Katia Reading'

Hara uses medium format film and meticulous in-camera methods in the creation of his images which is essential in the way he portrays his subject. His soft yet directional light highlights certain elements of the body. However, still create an even spread of light across the photograph so that no details are left unnoticed. Which is all apart of how he carefully stages his images and wants everything to be seen.

His technique involves creating multiple exposures in the camera coupled with cinematic lighting. Shot in a derelict building that was formerly a private medical clinic, the photographs have a timeless quality that reinforces the poignant longing and adolescent reverie that his subjects embody. (Danziger gallery, 2014.)

It is evident that much consideration, time and effort into the composition of the photographs. He could have easily chosen to recreate these images digitally but yet chose the more time consuming method of film to create a more high quality, thought out image that can only be achieved with such process. What is particularly interesting about Hara’s technique is the way that he uses huge smoke machines to create his opaque quality. Almost making the picture seem slightly faded, but in a way that retains all its details and high quality aesthetics. “For the technically minded, Hara made a huge box to surround his large-format camera so that he could mask part of the picture, then shot multiple exposures while shifting the focus. He also built the table that appears in the pictures and hand-painted the tablecloth to achieve an unreal perspective in which the lines and squares do not converge as they recede into the background.” (O’Hagen, S. 2012) Not only do Hara’s images reference the historical paintings of Balthus but also of Japanese history through the furniture and other found props. It is subtle contributions like this that, as a viewer you wouldn’t notice when looking at the photograph for the first time that make his photographs so successful.

The sepia toned effect of his photographs are unique ways of representing the paintings that were previously colour. By doing this, focus is directed to the subject, which enforces the focus and references history, rather than the present. Which is an important element of his images. It is this effect that I would be interested to experiment with when carrying out our photoshoot in our group project this week. Also adding a certain amount of class and sophistication that adds to our purpose and narrative that we wish to create.

Hisaji Hara – Artists (no date) Danziger Gallery. Available at: http://www.danzigergallery.com/artists/hisaji-hara/6 (Accessed: 25 February 2015).

O’Hagan, S. (2012) ‘Hisaji Hara – review’, The Guardian, 26 February. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2012/feb/26/hisaji-hara-photography-hoppen-review (Accessed: 25 February 2015).

© Kirstie Wilkinson

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