When I went to Japan in the second half of the 1990s to research Modern Japanese photography I was fortunate to meet the photographer Eiji Ina who introduced me to the contemporary photography scene in Tokyo. At that time it was nearly impossible for foreigners without a well-developed ability to read Japanese (especially names)As an example: when I visited the exhibition “MOBO, MOGA / Modern Boy, Modern Girl: Japanese Modern Art 1910-1935” in Kamakura (1998) all artists names were written in Kanji. Since I find Japanese names very difficult to read I asked other Japanese visitors for the names of some artists. This caused vivid discussions among the Japanese because the Kanji can have several different readings and sometimes the Japanese could not agree on the correct spelling of the names :-). to find out what was going on in Tokyo, since there were no English sources neither about exhibitions nor galleries available and Eiji Ina was so kind to take me to photography events like exhibition openings at galleries and museums or to the award ceremony of the Kimura Ihei Award. He also introduced me to the photographer Mikiko Hara, whom I met for the first time in 1998 at the opening of her exhibition “Agnus Dei” at Nikon Salon, Ginza/Tokyo.
A year later I saw Mikiko’s work again in the group exhibition about young Japanese women photographers “Private Room II” at Art Tower Mito. Curated by Kohtaro Iizawa this exhibition was a kind of assessment of the “onna no ko shashinka” (girly photographer) phenomenon which had already faded at that time. I felt that Mikiko’s work was misplaced in the girly photographer context since she was a few years older than these ‘girlies’ like Hiromix and Yurie Nagashima. Also, Hiromix’s and Nagashima’s main aim was to use the camera to talk about themselves and to deal with their own identity. Mikiko’s topic is different, she does not speak about herself:
What I photograph are people who I happen to pass by while I am walking down the street, or things and scenes that casually catch my eye in everyday life.
My snapshots are accumulations of daily incidents.
I don’t depend on coincidence, and it does not induce me to photograph either. Rather, I yield myself to the natural flow, go out and stop where I photograph. […]
I am powerless against the outside world, and have neither special approach nor message.
[Quote: Mikiko Hara, in “Private Room II”, 1999]
After my return to Germany, I lost touch with Mikiko unfortunately and I was pleasantly surprised when I saw in 2005 a new book “Hara Mikiko – Hysteric Thirteen” in a Tokyo bookstore. I presume that this book led to an exhibition of her work at Cohen Amador Gallery, New York, last spring.
Sentient and contemplative, Haras color imagery of both people and places she passes in her native Japan arrests the viewer between feelings of levity and of foreboding. The aesthetic that she brings to her images imbues them with this tense balance, characteristic of daily life in the security states of the twenty first century. […]
Her photographs simultaneously present the non-threatening surface of things while keenly alluding to the underlying tensions that exist just below these superficial realities, unnerving us and often unnerving the subjects in the photographs.
[Quote: Cohen Amador Gallery]
Hara lets her subjects body language and expressions speak as much as their surroundings. In one image, girls at the beach look surprisingly sullen considering their location. The sky and sand, both baize, come to frame the pastels of their garb and heighten the discomfort in their faces. They could be fearing an unsure future or just as easily frowning from the discomfort of their now wet clothes, or – as Hara would have us believe – both.
[Quote: Cohen Amador Gallery]
While Mikiko Hara was too old be considered a ‘girly photographer’ in the 1990s, nowadays she is often compared with a photographer who was too young to be included in this phenomenon.
It happened to me several times in the recent months that I was told that her photographs look like the work of Rinko Kawauchi. I think that this is a misunderstanding. While both photographers work in colour, use midsize cameras for square images and do a lot of shots in the streets, Mikiko Hara’s approach is different from Rinko Kawauchi. Rinko Kawauchi’s work is, first of all, a poetic appreciation of life (which does not exclude to talk about death), with images which range from straight documentary photographs (see her book “Cui Cui”) to fragile, almost dreamlike images with delicate colours (see her book “Utatane”). Mikiko Hara’s photography is poetic as well, but she has a different topic. She talks about distance and isolation of people in public spaces -, especially of women. And for this, she applies a different use of colours. Her colours are more intense and sometimes a little bit caustic, which amplifies the impression of detachment of the subjects in her images.
I hope that in the future Mikiko’s work will be recognized for what it is, and not be put into albeit obvious but misleading contexts for to attach an easily utilizable label on her work…
I just saw that Mikiko Hara’s work is included in the group exhibition “A PRIVATE HISTORY. Mikiko Hara, Masanori Ikeda, Kumi Oguro, Ryudai Takano” at the Fotografisk Center, Copenhagen, Denmark (Sept. 29 – Dec. 21, 2007).
1967 Born in Toyama Prefecture, Japan
1990 B.A. in Philosophy, Keio University
1994 Graduates from Tokyo College of Photography
1996 “Is As It”, Gallery Le Deco 6, Tokyo
1998 “Agnus Dei” Nikon Salon, Tokyo
2001 “Utsuro no Seihou”, Konica Plaza East, Tokyo/ The Third Gallery Aya, Osaka
2004 “Hatsugo no Mawari”, Guardian Garden, Tokyo
2005 “Hysteric Thirteen Hara Mikiko Photo Exhibition”, PLACE M, Tokyo
2007 “Blind Letter”, Cohen Amador Gallery, New York
Mikiko Hara – Hysteric Thirteen
Rinko Kawauchi: Utatane
Rinko Kawauchi: Cui Cui