2021.12.03 BLOG

I often say to my photography students, “When the subject is a person, in the case of a portrait or a snapshot, the photographer thinks he is observing the person, but the person may be observing the photographer even more.”

Portraits and snapshots like mine are the result of interaction between human beings. I believe that there is a kind of psychological exchange that takes place in a photograph.

Of course, there are many different ways to take photographs, so there is no such thing as a perfect approach in all cases. You could take a quick picture of a person without him/her noticing, for example.

When using a model, it is good if the model understands the photographer's intentions, and works according to them.

In my case, there is a certain sense of togetherness between the photographer and the person being photographed. Therefore, I believe the personality of the photographer is important.

I am often asked why my name is Herbie. In the music world, there are many people who use artist names that are totally different from their real names, but in the photography world, there are not many examples, so it is natural they ask.

I got this rather flashy name when I was about 20 years old. I was in a band with some friends in the neighborhood. My part was the flute, which I had played in a brass band club in the first year of junior high school. In the eighth grade, I joined a photography club, which I still do today, and when I joined the neighbor band, I picked up the flute again.

At one point in the band, we decided to give each of us a Western name, and in my case, the name came from the jazz flutist Herbie Mann. The other members were Jeff and Paul. We were all Japanese (laughs).

A few years ago, a little school girl sang the theme song for “Ponyo” and behind her were two men supporting her on guitar and chorus. Those two men were Jeff and Paul.

I had no musical talent so I quit and moved to London, where I spent the next ten years. The reason why I'm still so attached to this name is that shortly after I was born, I was diagnosed with caries, a tuberculous disease that caused considerable damage to my lumbar vertebrae. I was not able to walk by myself. I had to wear a corset to go to elementary school.

I had to miss all of my PE classes. I had few friends. With no hopes or dreams for the future, I could barely make it through the day, wandering alone, lonely and desperate.

This year, a poet, Hotaru Arisawa, published a collection of her poems, in which she writes the following sentence, “Little Yamaguchi was always sitting in the corner of the ground and crying.” She was in the same grade of the same elementary school, and she was also suffering from caries.

About the same time I was in the group with Jeff and Paul, or maybe a little before that, I had a medical checkup and the doctor said to me, “I understand you've been struggling for a long time but, by modern medical standards, let's consider your disease cured. Your spine has been deformed quite a bit, and you didn't exercise when you were growing up, and you were immobilized in a corset for a long time, so your body hasn't grown as much, but if you take care of yourself, you will be able to live on…”

Herbie Yamaguchi
Born in Tokyo in 1950, moved to England in 1973 at the age of 23 and spent 10 years there. Meanwhile, he became a photographer after working as an actor in a theater company. He experienced the punk rock movement then, and his photographs in London- from musicians to the people of the city- were highly praised. Since his return to Japan, he has continued to photograph with the theme "hope to live", and has photographed artists including Masaharu Fukuyama and portraits of ordinary people. In addition to being a photographer, he is an essay writer, radio personality, and lyric writer for guitarist Tomoyasu Hotei's album. He has held many exhibitions and published many photobooks. Visiting Professor at Osaka University of Arts and Kyushu Sangyo University. Received the Photographic Society of Japan Award in 2011.

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