Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Conversation with Hiroyo Kaneko

Sentimental Education #08, © Hiroyo Kaneko
Sentimental Education #11, © Hiroyo Kaneko

I think the first time I came across Hiroyo Kaneko's photography was through Shane Lavalette's Issue 01 of the Lay Flat project. Her "Sentimental Education" series brought me the calmness and trust that I yearn for within family, skin, and touch. I remember going to Japan with my mother when I was 17, for a touristy week trip with a busload of strangers and we refused going to the hot-springs because we never grew up comfortable with our own skin. Hiroyo's photography connects me back to my own memories with emotions and scenes that have far been pushed to the back of my consciousness.

Nymphoto: Tell us a little about yourself?

Hiroyo Kaneko: I was born in Aomori city, a northernmost area of the main island of Japan. As my family moved every few years because of my father's occupation, I spent my childhood in several different places, both the countryside and in the cities.

Experiencing thrills, loneliness and some troubles, I gained a kind of objective or detached view to look at things, people and myself, which has influenced my work and life.

I studied French Literature at Meiji Gakuin University in Tokyo and after working in an advertising office for a couple of years, I went to London to study photography. I attended an art school and got a diploma in photography, then went back to Tokyo, started working as a freelance photographer and writer for culture and photography magazines. At the same time, I kept working on my own photo projects. This was from mid-1990s to the turn of the 21st century.

The more chances to participate in exhibitions, the more I became interested in focusing on art photography for myself. I decided to go to the United States to pursue photography further. I went to the graduate program at San Francisco Art Institute 2003 to 2005. Since then I have been living in San Francisco.

Sentimental Education #03, © Hiroyo Kaneko
Sentimental Education #29, © Hiroyo Kaneko

NP: How did you discover photography?

HK: My father use to take family snapshots a lot when I was a child. I remember that we always enjoyed looking at the pictures he took. He had a manual Pentax SLR, which he gave me later.

When I was in the college, I took some classes about visual arts and film, because the period that I was studying within French Literature was early to mid 20th century, a time when all the cultural movements interacted with each other. I was interested in the relationship between writers, visual artists and filmmakers, such as Andre Breton, Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp and Luis Bunuel.

I was also into French New Wave films, especially Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut as well as Japanese film makers, like Yasujiro Ozu, Mikio Naruse and Seijun Suzuki. All those visual experiences got me involved in a filmmaking circle and made a few 8mm films with my peers. However, after we graduated it became difficult to get together to continue the activity, and then I gradually shifted to photography which I could do on my own.

Sentimental Education #26, © Hiroyo Kaneko

NP: Where do you find inspiration?

HK: I get inspiration when something I see at present corresponds with my memories in my head, including the memories of other artists' work: novels, movies, paintings and photographs.

I am influenced by painting a lot, especially by French impressionists like Manet and Cezanne (also Renoir and Bonnard too). They inspire me with how I should deal with the natural light and color that are reflected from the subjects. For the way of seeing the relationship between people and family, I also learn a lot from movies by directors such as Mikiko Naruse, Yasujiro Ozu, Howard Hawks, Ingmar Bergman, Manoel de Oliveira, as well as others.

Picnic #01, © Hiroyo Kaneko
Picnic #18, © Hiroyo Kaneko

NP: How do your projects come about?

HK: From my personal experiences, relationships, concerns, which have been piled up in my mind and have kept coming back to my conscious. I try to find a way to sublime those issues into art even though they are not necessarily expressed directly.

For example, the idea of "Sentimental Education" came from my experience in the US. For the first couple of years after I moved here, I had severe difficulty communicating with others. This didn't mean that the people in the US are more severe than people in Japan. I guess that any community in contemporary society should be same more or less, even within families. But for me, it was more obvious here because I was a stranger, had a language barrier, and faced cultural differences, etc. However, I also became more grateful and found it precious when I saw mutual respect or understanding among people. Thus, I got interested in seeing how our ordinary daily experiences (rituals) affect the ways we communicate with each other and how we interact emotionally with each other.

Rather than showing negative aspects of this , I wanted to show something more neutral and fundamental. Then I came up with the idea of photographing people in bathhouses in Japan which seemed to me an ideal setting for my purpose.

The cherry blossom pictures, "Picnic," stem from a similar idea. I photographed them in Aomori where I was born and spent my childhood. I was interested in reviewing and recreating my early experience which, I guess, helped to create my emotional makeup.

Picnic #17, © Hiroyo Kaneko
Picnic #04, © Hiroyo Kaneko

NP: What’s next?

HK: I am currently working on portraits of my boyfriend and his friends who are American blue-collar workers, who belong to the Teamsters organization.

Also, I want to continue the work for "Picnics", I plan to go back to the same place in different seasons.

Picnic #24, © Hiroyo Kaneko

NP: Thank you so much, Hiroyo!

To see more of her work, head to

1 comment:

Michelle Brea said...

I love this blog! just found it!! You portray great artists!!