photography by CHIKASHI SUZUKI
Interview by MASAKI KATO
style by ERIKA KURIHARA
MASAKI KATO — Can you tell us about your background?
HAJIME SAWATARI — I was born in Hongō, Tokyo in 1940. The Pacific War had already begun, and I fled to Yamagata Prefecture in the Tōhoku region for safety when I was four years old. My father was at the front as a soldier, so my family was scattered all over the place. I have no memory of living together as one family. Being with my grandmother is all I can remember as a child.
MASAKI KATO — I heard that your father was a poet, and he worked in a bookstore in Tokyo. What kind of a parent was he?
HAJIME SAWATARI — Actually, I have almost no memory of my father. After the war ended, my father fell sick with tuberculosis, went away to a sanitarium, and died when I was 10. I really have no good memories from my childhood. My mother and I didn’t live together for a long time, and I always ate dinner by myself. Like my father, I was also frail. I wasn’t good at either sports or my studies. There were many film theaters nearby, so I often went to see films alone.
MASAKI KATO — When did you first encounter photography?
HAJIME SAWATARI — When I was a ninth grader, when I took a Ricohflex with me on my school excursion trip to Nikko and Tokyo.
MASAKI KATO — You used to take photographs in the film theaters?
HAJIME SAWATARI — I think I learned how to use the camera from books. I would sit in the front row, and when I’d open the aperture using high-speed film and shoot at 1/25 shutter speed, the scanning line on the screen would disappear. I’d have a good time all by myself, shooting actresses such as Ayako Wakao and Marilyn Monroe.
MASAKI KATO — You entered the Department of Photography, College of Art, Nihon University [other graduates include Kishin Shinoyama and Takashi Homma]. Was it because you decided to become a photographer?
HAJIME SAWATARI — I wasn’t that determined. It’s just that I couldn’t think of anything else to do.
MASAKI KATO — How was life on campus?
HAJIME SAWATARI — Jazz, films, and novels inspired me. Especially Ascenseur pour l’Échafaud [Elevator to the Gallows]. I also liked French New Wave films, Beat poetry, and works by Tatsuo Hori and Osamu Dazai. I also published a fanzine with young poets who liked jazz. I was attracted to the improvisation style of jazz. I also liked Robert Capa, who was such a cool idol. Slightly Out of Focus was my favorite book. I admired Magnum Photos, the agency that Capa and Henri Cartier-Bresson established, so I copied them and formed a group called Humanité and visited magazine publishers with my works. So I started taking photographs of jazz musicians who came to Japan, and worked as an employee of the magazines.
MASAKI KATO — Were there any photographers who influenced you back then?
HAJIME SAWATARI — I don’t know if they influenced me, but I admired Shunji Okura and Shigeichi Nagano.
MASAKI KATO — What was your relationship with Kishin Shinoyama?
HAJIME SAWATARI — He was my college classmate at the Department of Photography. We were both born in 1940. Nobuyoshi Araki went to a different school, but he was also born in the same year. Shinoyama and I had a joint exhibition when we were students. He went to a different vocational school of photography while still in college, started working for a production company at the same time, and became surprisingly successful. He was working so freely, using the darkrooms and the printing papers of the company as he pleased, so I tried to join the company, too. But they said that I wasn’t suitable as an assistant and introduced me to the Nippon Design Center [established by companies such as Toyota and Nikon and the top creative professionals in the advertisement field to work on the preparation for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics]. But all they made me do there was take boring still-life photos of cars, electronics, and cameras, and I was sulking everyday and being late, so they fired me in three years. That workplace didn’t suit me at all. First and foremost, all I ever used were 35mm films, but they made me take still-life shots in a 4×5 format for the first time. I didn’t feel comfortable working in a studio, and I became disgusted.
MASAKI KATO — You were working with Camera Mainichi magazine then, shooting musicians such as Abbey Lincoln and Art Blakey, and also children at the same time. I heard that you used to visit the US base in Yokota and Tachikawa with the poet Kazuko Shiraishi?
HAJIME SAWATARI — Children are so nonchalant and free. In my case, I don’t shoot them from a perspective of an adult, admiring their cuteness and expressions. I try to see them from their perspective. It’s sort of like I’m borrowing the body of a child to shoot myself. While working for the magazine, I shot my début work, Halloween.
MASAKI KATO — Speaking of children, you were involved in the making of the film Emperor Tomato Ketchup by Shūji Terayama [a children’s story about an empire reigned by an emperor who likes ketchup] in 1970.
HAJIME SAWATARI — I was in charge of the cinematography. Just like in the film Throw Away Your Books, Rally in the Streets, most of the protagonists in Terayama’s films are boys. Both he and I felt stifled in the adult-dominated system of the big cities and companies.
MASAKI KATO — In 1968, Shinjuku had become a place of student movements, day and night. In terms of photography, Takuma Nakahira and Daidō Moriyama’s Provoke had been published, and times were changing in many ways. 1970 was an epoch-making year for fashion magazines in Japan, and an an was founded, and you would be involved in the magazine.
HAJIME SAWATARI — My subject for the early issues of an an were naked boys, too. They would get on the bus and run around the city naked. So it was a shigai-geki [performance on the streets].
MASAKI KATO — After that, you start one of your most important works, Nadia.
HAJIME SAWATARI — I thought it would be difficult for me to shoot a grown-up woman. But in 1971, I met through my work Nadia, an Italian model who came to work in Japan. We got along really well, so I started to shoot her personal life, and without any definite aim, I traveled to Venice and Sicily, Italy, her hometown, for a month and a half. The works that I shot there became my photography book, Nadia: Mori no Ningyoukan [Nadia in the Woods, 1973].
MASAKI KATO — You started shooting Nadia in the fall of 1973, and that same year, you start your Alice series. How did that come about?
HAJIME SAWATARI — When the editor of Bessatsu Gendai Shitechou [a Japanese poetry magazine], Shigeo Kuwabara, was putting together a book about Lewis Carroll, he approached poets, painters, and illustrators to come up with works under the theme of “Alice,” and I contributed with a photo. That piece received much attention, so Mr. Kuwabara suggested that we do an exhibition of “Alice.” In the early ’70s, rock ’n’ roll, fashion, and the culture from the UK were all exciting. So when Mr. Kuwabara told me that they would fly me to the UK and pay for all the necessary expenses to shoot the Alice series, I felt I had to go. The exhibition was set in haste for Christmas, 1973, but back then, I wished I had more time for the shooting. What was important to the image and inspiration for Alice was rock ‘n’ roll musicians. I wanted to shoot Alice and the musicians together, but couldn’t due to the schedule and lack of budget. I am deeply influenced by the free ideas and methodologies of rock ’n’ roll. I also love the world of nonsense and fantasy depicted in the Beatles’ films Magical Mystery Tour and Yellow Submarine.
MASAKI KATO — Can you tell us how eight-year-old Samantha was chosen to be Alice?
HAJIME SAWATARI — Andrew Sanders, who was our coordinator for the photo shoot in the UK, knew Aubrey Powell of Hipgnosis, and Aubrey had chosen a group of girls who were candidates to play the part of Alice. He sent us their photos before we got to the UK, so I had already seen Samantha’s images, but when I actually met her, I knew she was the one.
MASAKI KATO — Samantha had appeared on the cover of Led Zeppelin’s 1973 album, Houses of the Holy, designed by Hipgnosis.
HAJIME SAWATARI — Yes, she’s the naked girl climbing the rocky mountain. She was really professional. When she was taking off her clothes, her mother explained to her the intention of the shooting, and she would stand in front of the camera, understanding what she was supposed to do, in her own way.
MASAKI KATO — The nude photographs of Alice remind one of Eva Ionesco’s photos by Irina Ionesco.
HAJIME SAWATARI — Yes, of course I know her works. I think I saw them in a magazine or a photography book sometime long ago in the 1970s. But I can’t remember exactly when.
MASAKI KATO — Irina Ionesco started taking photos around 1970, and her first book came out in 1974, so it all happened together at once… You’ve been very active over the years, releasing photography books such as Kinky and Seiji Ozawa [the conductor]; works with Comme des Garçons from 1970 to 1980; projects with many actresses and models such as Tao Okamoto; A Girl from Hysteric Glamour; and your joint work with Daidō Moriyama, Record Extra Issue 1. Your latest book is Rain with the theme of rain, which I find very rare throughout the world. I can only recall Martin Parr’s first book, Bad Weather and Saul Leiter’s color photographs from the ’40s and ’50s. Rain is shot with a digital camera. When did you start using it?
HAJIME SAWATARI — At Kishin Shinoyama’s exhibition in 2009, there were some nude photographs taken at night in the city, and he explained it to me. That’s when I started. Shooting with a silver halide camera is difficult at night when there is little light, so I started testing things out with digital camera around that time.
MASAKI KATO — What was it like?
HAJIME SAWATARI — As far as taking photographs, it’s not that different. I guess the biggest difference is that I can take so many shots with digital cameras. Now, the films and other materials necessary to take silver halide photographs have gotten so expensive. But I don’t think it will die out. Of course, films erode, too, but digital files can disappear completely in seconds. In either case, without photography, I wouldn’t have had any kind of decent life, considering the fact that I am so awkward both in my work and in my personal life.
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