“With the pragmatic brilliance of a Renaissance master, Hiro has changed the way photographs look, and with an endlessly inventive technique has changed the way photographers work.” -The American Photographer

The iconic photographer of fashion and still life with a surreal eye, Yasuhiro Wakabayashi known worldwide as Hiro has died at age 90.

Robert D. McFadden wrote in The New York Times obituary on August 18, 2021, “He juxtaposed the mundane and the exotic, transforming ordinary objects into the desirable — an approach he took in his still-life images as well as in fashion.”

On Photography: Hiro, 1930-2021
Shinjuku Station, Tokyo, Japan, 1962 by Hiro

Surreal life

Hiro was born in Shanghai. It was a year before Japan went to war in Manchuria. He grew up during World War II and was interned with his family in what was known as Peking, China. Today it’s called Beijing. He was the son of a Japanese translator who may have also been a spy. He returned to Japan in 1946 to find his homeland in ruins. He got a camera and set about recording what he saw.

He read American fashion magazines and became enchanted with the work of Richard Avedon and Irving Penn. He started photographing the havoc that was postwar Japan.

On Photography: Hiro, 1930-2021
Hiro Self Portrait 1990

Avedon & Brodovitch

Hiro came to the U.S. in 1954. In California, he decided he would work for Richard Avedon. He worked for two commercial photographers for a couple of years before getting his apprenticeship at Avedon’s New York studio. Hiro’s work was inspired and, frankly, innovative to the point that Avedon introduced him to the art director of Harper’s Bazaar, Alexy Brodovitch.

For the next 18 years, Hiro worked as a staff photographer at that renowned and premier fashion magazine. After opening his studio he continued working for Harper’s Bazaar adding Vogue and others to his client list.

In a few short years, Hiro was a fashion photography icon. The American Society of Magazine Photographers (ASMP) named him 1969’s “Photographer of the Year.”

Still life G.O.A.T.

Hiro turned 50 in 1980. During a birthday celebration in Manhattan fashion design titan, Halston said, “I’ve always admired Hiro. He works in the quietest, most professional manner, and you can always count on him. He’s the greatest still-life photographer in the world.”

Hiro photographs are amazing and inspirational. Everyone who loves photography will be awed by his work. That’s why On Photography is featuring Hiro again to honor his passing and his legacy.

Sources: The New York Times.

Read more stories of inspirational photographers in On Photography.