the art of harnessing shadow and light
words Filipe Phitzgerard - images courtesy of Kazumasa Harada
Tokyo-based photographer Kazumasa Harada has developed the skill of harnessing light and shadow and through his photography, Harada is able to capture beautiful compositions of colour highlighted by this intricate relationship between light and darkness. Growing up, Kazumasa developed a high level of sensitivity to the hidden beauty surrounding him. Admittedly, he attributes this to his twin sister whom he grew up with. Their relationship has influenced him in many different levels and helped to form his identity and individuality.
Kazumasa knows that his work is the visual representation of someone who learned to identify and manage emotions from a young age. He shares that during his school years bullying was a sad reality he had to experience and that those memories have somehow informed his work methods. His observation-style photography documents what is not easily perceptible and from a voyeuristic perspective, Kazumasa has learned to identify and capture the dazzling beauty others would not easily notice. Harada shares his story with us, as well as a look into his photography style, what inspires him and much more.
Filipe Phitzgerard: First of all, thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. Let’s start from the beginning. How old are you and where are you from?
Kazumasa Harada: I was born in Tokyo, Japan where I also grew up. I am now, 28 years old.
F.P: How was it growing up for you?
K.H: My parents are teachers and growing up we lived with my grandparents. I have a twin sister and that impacted the formation of my identity as an individual. Growing up I was very sensitive to those adolescent emotions and I learned to express them early because my sister did it. I loved flowers and clothes as well as sports. After graduating from high school, I went to art university where I studied photography, editing, and creative direction. During university, I worked as a photographer's assistant as part of the natural process and later, I worked for a publisher as an editor and before becoming independent.
F.P: Can you share with us one of your childhood memories?
K.H: In all honesty, growing up I didn't have a great time at school. I couldn't get used to school and I have some painful memories from those times. I was bullied for some part of my school life and I had times I even wondered if there was a point in being alive. I don't usually go back to those memories but I think growing out of them, over time has helped me define who I am. Growing up wasn't all bad as I do have a lot of good memories especially with my father. I used to listen to classical music with him a lot and those are great memories.
F.P: What are the things that most excited you when you were a child or teenager?
K.H: I was absorbed in magazines and book bindings created by Tatsuya Ariyama, the art director. I always enjoyed Ku:nel magazine character, sets, and layouts. I was drawn to their excellent content and aesthetic. I always connected with their aesthetic because I think mine is very similar to theirs.
F.P: When did you realise that photography was something you wanted to do?
K.H: When I was 16 years old I bought a camera for my part-time job. But I didn't have a clear intention or something that compelled me to go into it. I think it was an organic start for me.
F.P: What inspired you to go into photography?
K.H: I don't know why but I always liked photography since I was a child. I remember photographing my home and the places I travelled to with my grandparents' instant camera. When I was in elementary school, my dream was to be a photojournalist. I wrote an essay and stated that my dream was to become a photojournalist.
F.P: How did you start as a photographer?
K.H: At first I was invited by a friend to help with filming. Then I went to become a location assistant for Hideaki Hamada while attending college. And I also worked part-time at a magazine, shooting and editing for their free paper. Of course, at the same time, I took the time to produce some personal works.
F.P: We are particularly interested in your portrait and documentary photography. Do you approach them the same way?
K.H: For me, they are basically the same. The subject does not require any acting or posing for photography.
Personally, the most important thing for me is to take the same approach with a consistent attitude towards any object. I like to keep a certain distance to my subject whether that is a person, a specific location, or object. Even though my process may seem disengaged, I can see it being both physical and sensory. Whatever I am photographing, I want to be sensitive to the elements I am photographing. I see the connection between the background and the subject which for me is very important but I don't overcomplicate it. To shoot a good photo, you need a sensible reading skill; I mean, read your subject and the environment they are interacting with.
F.P: What do you look for in someone when photographing a person?
K.H: I wouldn't say there is something I usually go for or a “must-have” aspect. I like honesty and simplicity, nothing staged or forcibly posed, like a forced smile. When photographing a person, I stay attentive to their every move. In other words, I like that feel of something in silence you find in photos; for example, a sign and lingering, their breathing, an emotion on their face, a subtle gaze, etc.
F.P: What makes a place or space special to you that you want to photograph them?
K.H: A place that attracts my attention are those where at first glance they feel like nothing, or where suddenly it feels like silence is filling the place. This is found at sea, in the forest, in the city and even in people.
F.P: We know that day-to-day life and food have a big part in your portfolio; what makes them special to you?
K.H: I ask myself the question; “how can I interact and capture everyday life?” Photography is a comprehensive art because it is closely related to all fields. In simple terms, I think daily life is the essence of photography. Daily life and food are not self-branding or promotion. However, they have contributed to my career. In everyday life, there is always thought and discovery working together. Food photography doesn't have anything particularly interesting at first, but then you look at it as if you were photographing a person (a portrait) and you can find the special things about it, not the food in itself but the whole composition.
F.P: What is the best thing to photograph in your city?
K.H: Signs and shadows that are invisible to the unaware eyes.
F.P: Do you have any tips for young creatives who are just starting as photographers?
K.H: I am still very young, and still have a lot to learn; but, I would say that learning and paying homage to your favourite creatives can be a good place to start. Also, there is worth and value in all things, both new and old. I think the context that lies in various fields is the source of new expression. I was very impressed when I learned about Thomas Ruff's past work. His early works are beautiful and there are so much value and space for inspiration in them.
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