Known for the originality of his distinctly conceived and precisely realized photographs, Hiro’s career began in New York shooting fashion, still-lifes, and portraits for Harper’s Bazaar.
Shortly after arriving in America from Japan in 1954, Hiro was hired as an assistant in Richard Avedon’s studio. Quickly recognizing Hiro’s potential Avedon decided he was too talented not to work independently and introduced Hiro to Bazaar’s legendary art director, Alexey Brodovitch. Hiro began working under Brodovitch in 1956 and within a few years he ascended to extraordinary fashion photography heights. In 1963, he became the only photographer under contract at Harper’s Bazaar, a position he held for the next ten years.
Throughout his career, Hiro has lived up to Brodovitch’s famous dictum, “If you look in your camera and see something you’ve seen before, don’t click the shutter.” In January 1982, American Photographer magazine devoted the entire issue to Hiro with the headline “Is this Man America’s Greatest Photographer?” Avedon described Hiro, who was born and raised in pre-World War II China and whose family returned to Japan in 1947, as “a visitor all his life,” neither completely Eastern nor Western, enabling him to document both cultures in his work with a perception that only comes from a certain detachment.
Hiro’s photographs are characterized by their elegant use of bold colors, unusual lighting and perspectives, and surprising juxtaposition of elements. His work is often described as surreal—sometimes unreal—and is born out of an astounding and constant vision. Hiro often sees extraordinary beauty in the ordinary, and this is evident in his great oeuvre of work. Part of Hiro’s genius lies in his ability to transform “the most mundane objects or delicate features…a toenail, the pupil of an eye, a mouth or a light-switch are seen with the same concentration. Concentration is Hiro’s most obvious quality. When he takes the whole theater of fashion to the beach, he returns with a metaphysical contemplation,” wrote Mark Holborn in his essay included in the 1999 monograph, HIRO.
His work is punctuated by his unrelenting precision from start to finish. Hiro’s exactitude is not, however, a hindrance to his creativity or an unnecessary obsession, but rather the means to express his creativity and innovation. His assistants always pass the camera to his left hand when he is photographing. This meticulousness is all part of Hiro’s ritual of focusing and “intensifying the gaze.” His preparation is second to none with the research conducted for a fashion shoot worthy of “an intelligence operation or a social science exercise.”
Hiro’s work has been published in three monographs and is included in the permanent collections of the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston), the George Eastman Museum (Rochester), the National Portrait Gallery (Washington, D.C.), the Victoria and Albert Museum (London), Maison Européenne de la Photographie (Paris), the J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles), and the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography and the Kobe Fashion Museum (Japan), among others.
Hiro died on August 15, 2021, aged 90
Image Right: Black Evening Dress in Flight, New York, 1963 © Hiro
Image Right: Harry Winston Necklace, New York, 1963 © Hiro