Private view: a studio visit to the hamaya archive 


 "Visiting a photographer's ‘inner-temple’, better known as their darkroom or archive, has always been a privilege. If one is fortunate enough to be invited in, one gains insight into the mind of the photographer – the outtakes, working contact sheets, good prints against less good prints, and the stories! All the ephemera that surrounds this profession has always been a passion of mine, and sharing this experience with you has brought back many fond and also exciting memories of my first visit to Hiroshi Hamaya’s home and archive in Japan."

Michael Hoppen



  • Born and raised in Tokyo, Hiroshi Hamaya (1915 - 1999) is considered to have been one of the most eminent...

    Born and raised in Tokyo, Hiroshi Hamaya (1915 - 1999) is considered to have been one of the most eminent Japanese documentary photographers of the 20th century. Working as an aeronautical photographer and a freelance contributor to magazines during the 1930s, Hamaya began his career documenting his hometown from the sky and the streets. An assignment in 1939 saw Hamaya travel to the rural coast of the Sea of Japan, where he became interested in documenting the traditional customs of its people and the austere environment of the region. Over the next two decades he recorded life in remote coastal prefectures, developing a more humanist, ethnographic approach toward photography. In the early 1950s Hamaya settled in the seaside town of Ōiso, where he began to review his body of work and put together his first photobooks.


    Later in his career, Hamaya would return to the sprawling urban labyrinth of his youth, to chronicle Tokyo's massive demonstrations against the renewal of the US-Japan Security Treaty (ANPO) in 1960. The resultant photobook, Record of Anger and Grief (1960), would become one of the most famous examples of Japan's post-war visual culture of protest. Aside from his political reportage photography, Hamaya completed a series of landscapes, travelling within Japan and abroad: "I came to realize that natural features in Japan, like the nature of its people, were extremely diversified and complex. I intended to investigate this conclusion with my own eyes."


    Hamaya was the first Japanese photographer to join Magnum, and his work was amongst the only Japanese contributions to Edward Steichen's groundbreaking photography exhibition, 'The Family of Man' (1955). More recently, his accolades include the Master of Photography Award from the International Centre of Photography, New York (1986) and the Hasselblad Award. 


    (Image: Hiroshi Hamaya, © Yukio Sugawara)


  • Hiroshi Hamaya "A Woman Planting Rice Toyama, Japan, 1957"

    Once in a while one gets lucky if one is lucky!

    Hiroshi Hamaya - Studio visit

    I had once seen a small group of Hiroshi Hamaya file prints in the stacks at MAGNUM in London. I was looking for a picture that I had been fixated with since first becoming interested in photography at the ripe old age of 13. I had been given a LIFE annual album which was produced every year to champion great photography. I remember it as if it were yesterday – the silver covered book with pictures and technical information, beautifully printed and bound. The image of a woman planting rice in the 1950’s, headless and strange (image on the right), was taken by the Japanese photographer, Hiroshi Hamaya. I knew very little of his other work and in my early years as a photo dealer, his name was almost never mentioned in the conversations we had about Magnum and the other better-known names that worked within the cooperative. There was a reason for this that I was to discover later.

    It was to be some 40 years later that I was to be introduced to Hamaya’s archive and his extraordinary output. 

  • In 2004 I met the executor of Hamaya’s estate, who had been tasked with keeping Hamaya’s home in Ōiso and the neighbouring archive intact. This was no mean feat, as keeping an archive alive and functioning is a very complex task.


    I knew a little about Hamaya’s life, but nothing prepared me for the wonderful surprises that lay waiting for me inside. Hamaya’s house was as he had left it. Simple and functional. The kitchen and the darkroom were neighbours. They led into a simple living and dining area, followed by the bedrooms and bathrooms which were each separated by sliding screens.


    garden full of blooming azaleas lay between Hamaya's house and the other small building that housed his archive.



















    The small darkroom had countless Christmas cards and well-wishing letters hung above the developing trays, from luminaries such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Ernst Haas, Richard Avedon and many others. Hamaya had been collegial to his fellow photographers and all the messages testified to his enormous generosity.





    Despite some perished rubber hoses that connected the print washer to the water supply and some film spirals that had seen better days, the darkroom still felt alive. The subtle smell of D76 and hypo somehow lingered in the house, and it was hard not to reminisce about the endless hours in darkrooms I had spent when I practised photography.


  • We were served a simple but delicious meal before entering the archive, in doing so maintaining the hospitable ethos that...

    We were served a simple but delicious meal before entering the archive, in doing so maintaining the hospitable ethos that Hamaya had always offered to those who visited him at home. The meal was served by the housekeeper, who turned out to be from the village that Hamaya had travelled to in 1956 while creating a photographic survey of communities living on the northeast coast of Honshu. These travels became the subject of one of Hamaya's best-known books, 'Snow Country.' Her family had been ‘adopted’ by Hamaya, who had helped various families educate their children. Hamaya's generous love and respect for them was reciprocated after he died, and the house is meticulously looked after.



    Hiroshi Hamaya

    Boys singing to drive away the harmful birds, Niigata, from the series "Snow Country" , 1948





  • Walking across the small garden during my first visit to the archive is a moment I shall never forget. There were five neat rooms lined along a narrow corridor. Each room was tidy and organised, and despite the yellowing of some of the paper, the place did not feel mothballed in the slightest. The first room held drawer upon drawer of negatives, each numbered, titled and dated in a neat hand.The second room contained the file prints and letters. Each letter was written out in Japanese and the reply to each was also there in Hamaya’s hand, in either Japanese or English!

    The third room amazed me. Here were Hamaya’s Leica M3 and M4 cameras, lenses galore, handmade leather walking boots (all showing severe heel-wear), canvas camera bags, tripods, cable releases and all the myriad equipment that peripatetic photographers always seem to accumulate.

  • Then came the room with magazines and books that his works had appeared in – countless copies of every known magazine that ever carried photography, and lines of books by Hamaya and his friends.


    Finally there was a room with framed works that had been given to him over the years. Photographers were often known to ‘swap’ prints as a way of saying thank you, or impressing one another with a shot or a special print. These mementos thankfully live on at the archive.


    We spent many hours going through the print files, discovering small gems and recognising the major works that Hamaya was famous for. Spreading these selections out on the tatami mat floor was our way of editing, a method I have experienced often when visiting artists in Japan. Large tables and large rooms are not as common, and space is always at a premium.


    Every time I visit an archive or a photographer's home, the excitement of opening boxes that have maybe not been inspected for many years is always a thrill. The discoveries and learning curve is always more pleasurable when working in the artist's own environment, and recognising their oeuvre and their systems is an integral part of finding out about their individual photographic practices.

    My only regret in this instance is that I never managed to meet Hiroshi Hamaya.








  • Featured works by Hiroshi Hamaya

    More works available
  • Public bathhouses were even more popular in Japan before the war than they are today, with families, men, women and...

    Public bathhouses were even more popular in Japan before the war than they are today, with families, men, women and children gathering to bathe and socialise for many hours. Whilst legislation passed by the Tokugawa shogunate in the 19th Century and reinforced by the American Occupation forces in the 1950s insisted on the segregation of men and women, Hamaya's enduring fascination with bathhouses saw him visit several old fashioned establishments which continued to turn a blind eye to mixed bathing. Both onsen (baths fed by natural hot-springs) and sentō (with artificially heated water) remain very popular all over Japan today, where many bathhouses boast regional health benefits particular to their local water supply.

    This particular image was taken in 1957 in Sukaya, a town in northern Japan's Aomori prefecture. It shows the female section of a traditional bathhouse. It is a beautifully composed picture and one can almost hear the fountain of warm water cascading down the neck of the central figure. Hamaya also made another wonderful picture of a bathhouse in his seminal book Snow Country, which shows a traditional bathhouse with complete families bathing together.


    More info


    (Image: Hiroshi Hamaya Sukaya Hot Spring, Aomori Prefecture, 1957)

  • Japanese photographer Hiroshi Hamaya travelled to China several times during the Second World War, following Japan’s invasion of China. He...

    Japanese photographer Hiroshi Hamaya travelled to China several times during the Second World War, following Japan’s invasion of China. He was commissioned by Japan’s nationalist government to photograph industrial developments and state events. In the aftermath of Japan’s defeat, Hamaya was one of the only photographers who had been actively engaged in propaganda efforts to publicly declare his contrition, and to draw attention to photography’s complicity with the ultra-nationalist regime. 


    One of the ways Hamaya worked through his guilt in the post-war period was to revisit China, to photograph ordinary people and the changing political situation. He was amongst the artists invited to travel by the Japan-China Exchange Association. In contrast with the photographs taken by many contemporary American photographers, in thrall to a Cold War agenda which decried “Red” China, Hamaya treated the country as a communitarian, civilizational entity, founded on the hard work of citizens. He published his first collection of Chinese photographs in his 1958 book ‘The China I Have Been to See’, and continued to visit throughout his career.


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    (Image: Hiroshi Hamaya “Live long Chairman Mao”, Beijing, China, 1956)

  • The lady in the picture was to become Hamaya’s wife whose name was Asa. He initially met her as a...

    The lady in the picture was to become Hamaya’s wife whose name was Asa. He initially met her as a ‘model’  who posed for him making the tea ceremony for an article. He was smitten and fell madly in love and married Asa shortly afterwards.


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    (Image left: Hiroshi Hamaya A woman performing the Tea Ceremony)


  • Featured works by Hiroshi Hamaya

  • The photobooks

    In the early 1950's Hamaya began to put together his first photobooks as a mode of artistic dissemination; we have fine examples in the gallery library, some of our favourite pages are pictured here. 

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