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Touki, Rikishi series © Hiroshi Watanabe, 2005 | Image source internet
Touki, Rikishi series © Hiroshi Watanabe, 2005 | Image source internet

Hiroshi Watanabe

My expenses are almost as high as my photography income and I have so little left at the end even when I am lucky. So, maybe I am not qualified to answer this question. Then why am I doing photography? I think it is a combination of passion and stupidity. For me, photography is intellectual, …artistic, and curiosity fulfilling. I love making photographs.

Hiroshi Watanabe

Hiroshi Watanabe is a California-based Japanese photographer. Born in Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan in 1951, Watanabe graduated from the Department of Photography of Nihon University in 1975 and moved to Los Angeles where he worked as a production coordinator for Japanese television commercials and later co-founded a Japanese coordination services company. He obtained an MBA from UCLA in 1993, but two years later his earlier interest in photography revived. In 2000, he closed the production company in order to devote himself entirely to art and became a full-time photographer. His work has been published around the world and has been exhibited in many galleries across the United States and Japan.

After five self-published books, Watanabe’s first to be published conventionally was I See Angels Every Day, monochrome portraits of the patients and other scenes within San Lázaro psychiatric hospital in Quito, Ecuador. This won the 2007 Photo City Sagamihara award for Japanese professional photographers. In 2005, a portfolio of his work was featured in Nueva Luz photographic journal. In 2007 Watanabe won a “Critical Mass” award from Photolucida that allowed publication of his monograph Findings. In 2008, his work on North Korea won Santa Fe Center Project Competition First Prize, and the book titled “Ideology of Paradise” was published in Japan. He was invited and participated in commission projects such as “Real Venice” in 2010 (its exhibition was a program in the 2011 Venice Biennale), “Bull City Summer” in 2013, and “The Art of Survival, Enduring Turmoil of Tule Lake” in 2014. Watanabe’s works are in the permanent collections of the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, George Eastman House, and Santa Barbara Museum of Art.

Hiroshi Watanabe basically works in black and white photography, in square format, and his production covers a variety of subjects: portraits, places, and any human activity that could be interesting to the artist. A curious observer, Watanabe has traveled many countries seeking to express his experiences in inspiring images, telling visual stories that connect us with everyday lives, festive celebrations, artistic manifestations, or curious circumstances of the rest of humanity.

His popular works Rikishi was done in the year 2005. A rikishi is a professional sumo wrestler. Rikishis are expected to live according to centuries-old rules and most come from Japan, the only country where sumo is practiced professionally. Participation in official tournaments is the only means of marking achievement in sumo and the rank of an individual rikishi is based solely on official wins. In this intense cultural document, Hiroshi had made 28 portraits of Sumo wrestlers. His work stands apart because of the strong cultural thread that highlights the nuances of Japanese culture, folklore, and tradition.

Published on January 18, 2021
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