Spring/Summer 2014
black and white image through the viewfinder son and father

The ViewFinder

The work of Keiko Hiromi BA ’04 is defined less by her subject than the perspective she brings to it.

By Keiko Hiromi BA ’04

I can definitely say all I really need to know I learned in kindergarten. I was born Kamakura, Japan, a historic city that was founded in 1192 A.D. I grew up outside of Tokyo. I am an only child. My parents own a private kindergarten. My mother often took me to her work when I was younger. This is their 37th year since they started the kindergarten (the name is Hikari, meaning “Light”). They believe in forming a big family-like community. We say once you attend the kindergarten (and that includes the parents), we are family. Every time I go back to Japan, I still go there to help [do] whatever I can, and I am still learning everything I need to know in life there.

I had a one-year [high school] exchange program in a small town in Texas. When it was time for me to go to college, I knew I wanted to come back to the USA, but I wanted to be in the city. Attending Suffolk University was the reason I moved to Boston. Most of the time I attended Suffolk, I lived in [the] North End and walked to campus every day. My Suffolk life can be described as the best, [because of ] wonderful friends from around the globe and photography. I took a basic photography class with Ken Martin during my sophomore year. I was 20 years old. Ken planted my love for photography. Ever since, I have not looked back. I also majored in philosophy. I think it was in my Eastern Philosophy class [that] I learned one of my mantras: “Passion is something you are willing to suffer for.” This keeps my head up when I am in the dark.

drag queen

I still keep in touch with Ken Martin. He is a photojournalist. Now I am also a photojournalist. I work with a news agency, Polaris Imaging, in New York, where I submit my news and current affairs photography. I am also represented by two fine art photography galleries, Panopticon Gallery in Boston and Gallery Bauhaus in Tokyo. My work was a part of Les Rencontres d’Arles 2012 in France and [was on display] at the Massachusetts State House. I was a finalist of the Massachusetts Cultural Council Artists Fellows Program in 2013.

 When I had my first solo exhibition in Tokyo in 2009, I found out that my grandfather and my uncle were very serious amateur photographers. Both built darkroom[s] in their houses. My grandfather started a camera club in his company (Mitsubishi). My grandfather passed when I was 8 years old. I often wonder what he would say to me now [that] I am a photographer.

My subject matters are chosen solely based on my interest. If I hear something interesting to me, or have gone to a place that sparks my interests, I know it is [the] beginning of my new photo project. Photography has taken me to a closed Christian community, a mud hut in Liberia, backstage at a drag queen cabaret and ballroom dancing at Harvard University.

Whenever I see a photograph I really like, I take a mental note and try to apply what I like about the photograph (often the feel of the image) to my own photography. I like many photographers: Eugene Richards is my hero. Robert Capa is my photographic first love. Henri-Cartier Bresson is brilliant. Helmut Newton is inspirational, Diane Arbus is so insightful.

Photography is a point of view. What I photograph (the subject matter) is not that unique: It has been photographed before. What I can offer is my perspective, my personal experience, and [my] relationship [with those] I photograph. Every project is different, and the dynamic of each project is unique. I mainly photograph people. As I am a documentary photographer, how I relate to whom I photograph is very important. It is a very intimate process for me. If I want my subjects to accept me, I accept them first. If I want them to open up to me, I open up to them first. It is always a very fulfilling but sometimes exhausting process. I find myself very vulnerable as a person sometimes. Being allowed into someone’s life is a privilege, and the reward is the greatest.

Who I am and how I relate to others are direct contributions from my parents and their work ethic. I am very much my parents’ child. My parents are very hands-on teachers — a lot of field trips to museums and farm fields, exploring the world. (I guess you can say that is me; exploring the world with my photography.)

keiko hiromi

About the author: Keiko Hiromi

Keiko has a BA from Suffolk University. To see more of her work, please visit her website www.keikohiromi.com

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