Hiroki Kobayashi Tokyo, Japan
Hiroki Kobayashi was born in Hiroshima and graduated from Kokugakuin University in Tokyo, where he currently lives. He has been working as freelance photographer in Japan and NYC since 2005. His work has been published in The New York Times, Photo District News online, Flaunt, Pin Up, Irish Times Magazine, Jornal Expresso, amongst others, as well as exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary African Diaspolan Arts (Brooklyn, NY), BRIC Rutunda Gallery (Brooklyn, NY), FiveMyles Gallery (Brooklyn, NY), Skylight Gallery (Brooklyn, NY) and more. In 2010, 2011, and 2012, he was awarded the Brooklyn Arts Council Regrant Program.
Hiroki Kobayshi was chosen by photogrpher João Pina
Laatikkomo’s interview with Hiroki Kobayashi February 13th, 2015
L: Where are you from? What cities, and/or countries have you lived in – or what places/cultures have influenced you?
HK: I was born in Hiroshima, Japan and grew up there until 10 years-old, when my family moved to Tokyo. After graduating from university, I spent some time between working in the mountains in Nagano and backpacking in South-East Asia for a few years. The time spent in the nature, as well as within different cultural environments, definitely had a strong impact on me, after living my teenage in a hectic city like Tokyo. On 2006 I moved to Florida and then to NYC, where I lived until 2013. This experience greatly influenced the way I perceived multiculturalism, and made me realize how deeply my Japanese background was rooted in me.
L: What is your earliest memory of photography?
HK: My earliest memory of photography is my family’s albums, made by my parents and grand parents. It was filled with memories of ordinary days as well as important events of the family. They were always full of love, joy and nostalgia of the past. I still remember the feeling of living again and again those moments that were captured, every time I looked through them.
What traits from your cultural history do you think are apparent in the photographs you currently make?
The ephemeral nature of life is always present in the Japanese culture, taking from its history and its nature, I think the Japanese got used to accept and live with it. The Japanese nature is extremely harsh, with frequent natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, typhoons, landslides, and volcanoes. On the other hand, the four seasons are clearly marked with a changing beauty throughout the year. Maybe for these reasons, the Japanese see gods everywhere in nature (with its original animist religion called “Shinto”), and cultivated great respect and appreciation for it. The cycle of destruction and reconstruction is something we naturally learned to live with from generation to generation. Unconsciously I probably search for this beauty in the ephemeral reality surrounding me, sometimes in its natural environment, other times in the environment transformed by humans.
The Japanese folk art also had a great impact on me when I was a student at university. Most of them are handmade by unknown craftsmen from allover the country. The beauty of the simplicity and functionality, made me start realizing that there was a difference between the essence and the appearance of an object.
L: An article about your work noted that during the 2011 tsunami and earthquake in Japan, you were in New York. Most of the images shown on your website show a subject matter from New York City undergoing some sort of change: buildings deteriorating, flowers in a storm, by-standing plants painted by graffiti, etc. Was this work influenced by your preoccupations about the tsunami?
HK: Actually, those works were created before the tsunami. I have always been interested in the memories and traces of people in the places. As reflection of that interest, my personal projects ended up focusing the place I was living in at that time, which was in Brooklyn, with its nature and gentrification.
In that aspect, the photographs of the tsunami were also telling a story about people and their relation with the changing nature, but in this case, a change that happened abruptly.
L: In an interview with Cultural Fluency, you mentioned that for you, “photography is an important tool to understand subjects”. Apart from the images shown on your website, do your other projects also study some kind of transformation?
HK: Yes, I have other projects which are not on my website. One of those is the one I did in 2011 called “Crown Heights Memory Project”, at FiveMyles gallery located in the most gentrified neighborhood in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. I exhibited photographs focusing on people living in that neighborhood for their whole life. At the same place, I created another installation with portraits taken during the exhibition, of people who visited the gallery. Using the photography as a tool, I tried to represent this quickly changing process undergoing in Crown Heights of that time.
L: Your series of images seem to be taken at one time, showing different facets of one setting. Do you also work on ongoing projects? After working on a specific project do you ever work on sequels or revisit the same subject later on?
HK: Yes. The projects about Brooklyn were ongoing projects, which I intended to develop as series of the same theme from different perspectives. However, with the birth of my son, I decided to move back to Japan for a while, and this project was interrupted. I still intend to go back to this unfinished subject, and shoot again the place where I still have strong bonds.
Meanwhile, I am now searching for a subject which I would like to focus on right here, in my home country.
L: What questions would you like to ask through your work?
HK: I believe that the human-beings share similarity…. Although differences in cultural background lay behind each person or culture, there are some basic similarities that overcome those differences. I would like to try to capture it in my photography and share it with the audience. How can I express it?
L: Could you list 5 words that you were thinking about when you made this work?
HK: This project was an experiment using one of the most popular subjects in Japan to photograph in the spring – the cherry blossom. I tried to capture it in a way never seen before. It was taken at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden during the cherry blossom season in different years. I used my Hasselblad for this shooting, and composing the photographs was like meditating in the cherry tree forest. The process of shooting was pure joy.
I usually do not think about words when I start shooting something. Most of the time, I just follow my instinct and start shooting as a reaction to the subject which talks to me in a visual form.
As a result, 5 thoughts that come out of this subject could be expressed as:
symbol, life, cycle, experiment, meditation.
Thank you so much Hiroki!