“To extract from a life what has shaped it along the way in an elusive exercise. Every experience has a hand in it. It is formed alone, with sudden brilliant flashes who illuminate the way. Richard Avedon, Alexey Brodovitch. They have merged in me and force me to look into the lens, look again, and for an instant, see myself peering back.” -Hiro
Yasuhiro Wakabayashi (a.k.a. Hiro) is a master of translating vision into photographs. Hiro demonstrated this in every photograph he made — from portraits like the one of actor Sean Penn to 12 Apollo-era moon suits to a Harry Winston diamond necklace hung on the hoof of a cow.
Each image he created was evocative, elegant and often surreal. He has paired an ant with a red painted toenail and a foot with a tarantula. Model Jerry Hall is framed in shadow as smoke from her lips melds into clouds in a blue sky.
Hiro worked in a Shanghai hotel. He waited for guests to discard fashion magazines so he could see the pictures. He came to New York in 1954 to study photography. He quickly became frustrated with photographic studies at the School of Modern Photography. He sought instead to assist Richard Avedon. Seeing Hiro’s talent, Avedon introduced him to legendary Harper’s Bazaar art director, Alexey Brodovitch. Brodovitch not only encouraged Hiro, but he also commissioned the young photographer to do work for Harper’s.
Hiro opened his own studio in 1958. He was the first staff photographer for Harper’s from 1957 to 1975. The American Society of Magazine Photographers (ASMP) named him the photographer of the year in 1969.
HIRO: Photographs, edited by Richard Avedon
His former mentor, Richard Avedon served as editor of the book “Hiro: Photographs,” published in 1999. The opening quote of this article is from Hiro’s short introduction of himself. The book features Hiro’s fashion as a matter of course. Surprisingly, it shows photos of fighting birds in underground events in Baltimore for over seven years. He chronicles Japanese fighting fish with Polaroid’s 20-by-24″ camera. His infrared photograph of the Apollo 11 launch is haunting in its alien colored green sky. The book wraps up with photographs of infants. The last photo is by Jacques-Henri Lartigue showing Hiro hanging over a board to photograph a model from above.
Hiro turned from fashion to reportage and landscape photography. He still works out of his Central Park West studio.
Read more On Photography mini-bios of influential photographers past and those working now.