Hiromi Tsuchida: Documenting Japan’s past and present
Hiromi Tsuchida: I became a full-time photographer in the 1970s. We could say the 1970s was a political era for Japan. We had an economic upheaval. I believe the overall movement in Japan was to get rid of the past. I dared to resist that. I felt an urge to reflect on the culture that fostered it. My work was intended to ponder my identity, the place where I was born and raised, with respect to the Japanese folk culture of the time. I may have unconsciously made the decision to revisit the old Japan.
The Zokushin series was initially going to be about the formal ceremonies, but it turned out in the end to focus more on the participants. This photo was the very first important work that pushed me to shoot the Zokushin series. It shows part of the New Year festival in a very small mountain village. I was shooting the formal ceremonies in the homes of villagers. When I looked back, there were villagers partying in the field, so I ran over to them, with a friendly and playful approach.
I initially went there to photograph the crowd in the cherry blossom viewing party, but you don’t see the flowers at all in this photograph. I was taken by a beautiful woman and approached her for her permission. When I was taking her photograph, a man approached and said, “Take photographs of us together. How about this pose?” [laughs] The man down there is me. Well, actually, that would be a lie. The work perhaps reflects the relationship between men and women in Japan, where Japanese men typically long to be coddled by women.
Subjects become more willing to express themselves when a camera is directed at them. It is important for photographers to invite their subjects to react to the camera.
After shooting Zokushin I moved on to focusing on the crowd in the city. In the midst of Japan’s high-growth economy, I had hoped to capture Japan’s broader social circumstance, the attitudes and actions the nation flocked toward. That was my intent when shooting Counting Grains of Sand. In terms of the Japanese economy, the era of high-growth economy had ended. Happiness, as long as the nation walked in the same direction, hand in hand, was no longer promised. Things became extremely individualistic. The distance between people emerged, and their directions and movement became quite diversified. The nature of the crowd began to change.
My photographs show the paradigm shift that occurred from the twentieth to the twenty-first century. As I continue on my life’s work, I ponder what defines Japanese culture and people. Japanese people change as time goes by, and I am very dedicated to documenting that process. I am not so aware of that when I’m taking the photos.