Photo editor Akira Hasegawa on self-expression, photo-manipulation and fake photos.
“Photography is a cut throat fight with your own eye”
I first heard the name Akira Hasegawa on the pages of Asphalt magazine: he joined as photo-editor in chief from the second issue of Atsushi Fujiwara’a magazine, where he wrote all the prefaces, a single page where he presented the artists’ work, while disclosing between the lines some of his thoughts about photography and society: overtly critical with the power and the Chinese and American imperialisms in Japan, he takes part with the underdog, overturn the common view on beauty and politics.
His name was ringing a bell, after some research I realized he’s the photo editor behind Masahisa Fukase’s Solitude of Ravens.
Internet was of little help for my research: a couple of interviews in English language and some incomplete bibliography.
During his career Akira Hasegawa worked for Camera Mainichi, one of the most inflential Japanese photo-magazine, under the direction of Sheiji Yamagishi, then was the editor of the Asahi Sonorama photobook, a series of 27 books published in the late 70s.
In addition to that series, Hasegawa edited some of the most famous milestones of Japanese photobooks: “A Journey to Nakaji” and “Tales of Tono” by Daido Moriyama “Heisei Gannen” by Nobuyoshi Araki, and “Solitude of Ravens” by Masahisa Fukase, “Seitakaawadachiso” by Koji Onaka just to name a few.
In his editing process he nurture the fine art of mymesis, he disappears in the artists’ work. His editorial influence can still be felt by a wide crop of current editors and publishers such as Michitaka Ota of Sokyu-sha.
Akira Hasegawa is also an excellent writer, while in his photo-editing work he chooses to disappear, on his prefaces he embraces bold opinions aboout photography and the artistic process. I’ve read some of his touching introductions and afterwords on Daido Moriyama’s Tales of Tono and The world through my eyes, Masahisa Fukase’s Ravens, Asphalt magazine.
Akira Hasegawa is now in retirement but he still finds time to work on projects he believes in: as editor in chief of Asphalt Magazine he could have contacted some of the big names of Japanese photography but he chose instead to show us some of the finest unknowns out there.
I remember seeing some pictures of him sequencing a magazine: an empty room with sun from the windows, pictures on the floor, walking back and forth. This simple image sticked deep in my mind, I thought: this is how it’s supposed to be.
I finally decided to contact him with a series of questions for an interview. Instead of replying me point by point, he wrote this piece which elliptically replies to them all and none of them.
“Photography and I”
The First time I came in contact with photography is after I started working for a publisher called “Asahi Sonorama”. That was after I graduated from a university. This company was a subsidiary of Asahi Shimbun, so as the normal routine, editor in chief was appointed from the parent company. I was editing various books there. One day, Mr. Tatsuo Shirai came to work with us. He was an ex-editor in chief for “Asahi Camera”. Of course, he was working with photography, but he was a mechanic for Nakajima Aircraft before the war, so his interest to camera was more focused on technical aspects. He didn’t really care about photo expression. So I invited Mr. Shoji Yamagishi from “Camera Mainichi”. He was a good friend of mine. I was in charge of soft contents and he helped me a great deal. Mr Yamagishi was the complete opposite of Mr Shirai.
Mr Yamagishi was interested in photo expression and he was already well known in the photography industry. I started doing photo book editing as I watched how Mr Yamagishi worked, so you could say that I was his student in a way. I have been making photo books since then and I continued on even after leaving the publisher. I have made more than 100 photo books so far and I also worked with photo magazines, but my perspective about photography has become quite limited.
The word “Photography” captures a large field including x-ray photo, endoscopic photo, nature photo, documentary photo and such, however, I specialized in “self-expressing photos”. This way of photography has no clear objectives, so this is, quite frankly, unnecessary. If it has any sort of objectives, it is for one’s self satisfaction. This was, nonetheless, always considered as one of the mainstreams in the history of photography just the way that serious literature has always been considered as the mainstream in the history of literature. If I have to talk about my narrow minded perspective, photographs as self-expression must be real photos. They cannot be manipulated pseudo-artistic photos. You should not even perform trimming as a basic rule. Because real photography is a cut throat fight with your own eye. If what you captured isn’t good enough, then learn from that and try again.
If you have 3 OK shots out of 10, then you are a good photographer, just like baseball
What I want to say is, nowadays with all kinds of Computer Generated technology in place, it is so easy to create or forge visual components. If you want to pretend to be an artist, that’s quite harmless but there’s even the possibility to use the same technology to easily fabricate fake imageries of devastated sites or criminal evidence. If photography wants to claim its position as an independent genre that’s different from art, real photo is the only way possible.
Lastly, I want to talk about how I review the photos. Photos are just imageries, so when I see them, I know if something is good or not at a first glance. If you don’t know, you never will. That’s the reason why I don’t talk about the photos themselves, instead I write about the time period or history that made the photo possible. Some people say it is a strange reviewing methods, but I believe this is what it means to leave the photos for the future to come.
PS:This short article is far to be a comprehensive review of Akira Hasegawa’s work, I hope this piece will encourage others to further investigate into the work of a master.
Thanks to Akira Hasegawa and Atsushi Fujiwara for their kindness and support.
Here you can read our interview to Atsushi Fujiwara, founder of Asphalt Magazine