Sometimes you find photographers who’s work takes your breath away. Hiroshi Watanabe is one of these artists.
His black and white and color images are exquisite in tonality, composition and depth of field but more important they have density of emotions, they captivate. Working with a medium format camera and doing his own printing in the traditional dark room he produces images and prints that have strong aesthetics, sensuality and are emotionally involving. It is wonderful that there are several websites that exhibit his work, including his own website, the master of fine art site, and photo eye.
There are different sources to purchase prints in case you are interested. All his images are printed by the artist using gelatin-silver materials. You can purchase prints at different galleries and also directly from photo-eye.
Born in Japan in 1951, his initiation in photography emerged as a way to scape from the rigors of academic school. After hard and disciplined study in school, Hiroshi Watanabe decided to major in photography ands enjoy an easier life in college. He earned a bachelors of Arts degree in photography in 1975 at Nihon University College or Art. By chance, a new job brought him to Los Angeles to work with a Japanese TV commercial production company where he worked for 5 years to then start and run his own production company for 20 years. Since 2000 he has focused entirely in his photographic work.
He has published several books. The most recent one, to be published in October, is from the body of work that was honored by the Photolucida Critical Mass Award in 2006, a beautiful book entitled “Findings“. Three different volumes of his portrait work have been published in several volumes named “Faces” and his most recent portraiture work, “Kabuki Portraits” was the subject of Lenswork Magazine #70 (just to see these superb images is worthwhile to purchase this issue in case you are not subscribed).
My photographs reflect both genuine interest in my subject as well as a respect for the element of serendipity. I strive for both calculation and discovery in my work, studying my subjects in preparation, while at the same keeping my mind open for the surprises. The pure enjoyment of this process drives and inspires me. Mostly, I seek to capture people, traditions, and locales that first and foremost are of personal interest, while other times I seek pure beauty. I wish for my images to distill scenes ranging from the ephemeral to the eternal, from the esoteric to the symbolic. A current that underlies my work is the concept of preservation. I make every effort to be a faithful visual recorder of the world around me, a world in flux that, at very least in my mind, deserves preservation, and that I constantly seek to expand. – Hiroshi Watanabe
One summer day of July 2001, I walked into the building of San Lázaro Psychiatric Hospital. This colonial building was made in 1751 as a house for poor, homeless, sick, mental illness, leprosy patients, and abandoned children. I was told its name, San Lázaro, came from Lázaro, who was a leprosy helper in the Bible. After changes of many years, it is now a three-story massive building standing on a steep hillside of the old colonial section of Quito, Ecuador. I heard about this hospital while I was working on another project in Ecuador, and since then something had been urging me to photograph there. I finally asked Trinidad, my good friend in Ecuador, to take me to the hospital.
With its aged high white walls, I somehow imagined inside to be a bit of chaos, like the last scene of the movie “Amadeus”. But when I went inside, the first thing I saw was a courtyard, simple and peaceful with a fountain in the middle, and there were several people standing quietly. I wondered if they were patients. Mostly, I was surprised at the calmness.
We went upstairs to the women’s section and entered a large room with evenly spaced beds lined up on both sides, and there were many patients. Some are walking around, and some are sitting on beds, while others are sleeping. As we walked by, a woman started to walk side by side with us. I see her eyes full of excitement and curiosity. She follows us around to the outside of the room and started to talk. She kept talking without stop and complained about her toothache every 5 minutes. When we were finally about to leave her, she said, “Do you see the angels? Have you seen the angels?” and she declared, “I see angels every day.”
The hospital has a large church inside, occupying almost one fifth of the complex. Besides doctors and nurses, there are nuns who seem to play important rolls of the hospital activities and caring of the patients. I was reminded by a doctor that medical science started as a part of religious endeavors, and the churches were big part of saving the souls of sick people. Only recently, science became the dominant part, and religious aspect became smaller in general. I was intrigued by the way science and religion co-existed in this hospital doing their parts in effort to help those who were struck by the most intrinsically human illnesses.
There are many stories to tell. These pictures were taken inside of the hospital and in the adjacent colonial section of Quito. They are all visual reminder of the stories I heard. – Hiroshi Watanabe
© Hiroshi Watanabe (from “I See Angels Everyday”)