#FBF Heroes: Yasuhiro (Hiro) Wakabayashi

#FBF Heroes: Yasuhiro (Hiro) Wakabayashi

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#FBF Heroes: Yasuhiro (Hiro) Wakabayashi

Remembering Hiro after his passing at 90-years-old

Remembering Hiro after his passing at 90-years-old

Photography: Hiro

Text: Alix Browne

If circumstances had been kinder, Hiro would be a surgeon today. But the Second World War and the reparation of his family conspired against it. Instead, at the age of seventeen, he picked up a camera. He remembers the first photograph he ever took. Two American sailors, standing in the rain, in Yokohama, Japan. This was 1948.

From V14 Nov/Dec 2001 | Maria Beadeux, New York City, June 13, 1974

Hiro moved from Japan to New York to learn photography, beginning with still lives because he reasoned he could work on them without assistance or a lot of equipment, and late at night if necessary. He in turn became the assistant to Richard Avedon and ended up sharing a studio with him for 15 years. Visitors to the place would often walk in and find the two photographers literally shooting back to back.

It was through Avedon that Hiro was introduced to Alexey Brodovitch and Harpers Bazaar, the magazine where he would go onto publish some of his most legendary photographs. Among them is the image of the hairy cloven hoof of a farm animal, decked out in an obscenely expensive Ruby and diamond necklace by Harry Winston.

The photo was a kind of Christmas present to the magazine but also the realization of a childhood memory of oxen, outfitted in protective straw shoes, coming off the mountains in Nagano. A lot of heroes' photos are visual madeleines. Walking to school in Peking every morning, he used to pass a funny doorway that opened to a narrow staircase. At the top of the staircase was a mirror, whose reflection offered a view on to the second floor. Though Hiro was too young to understand it at the time, it was an opium den. The mysterious image of women languishing on the pillow-strewn floor, smoke trailing from their lips, stayed with him, however, to resurface in Harper’s Bazaar decade later in a beauty shot promoting the season's new lipstick color (see below). Hiro claims he doesn’t know what truth is, that he doesn’t know what fantasy is, though the range of his photographs offers stunning glimpses of both. All good pictures, he says—all good pictures of any artist really—are filtered through the experience of the person who makes them. “It’s not something I can explain,“ he says. “You see something, you digested, and it returns to you with the emotion and the touch intact.”

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