I’m not too sure when or where or how I heard of Hiromix. It was after I (re)discovered photography (October, 2010), before I started shooting film (late-2013) and before I started reviewing photobooks and filming unboxings here (June, 2015). It was probably 2012 or 2013, sometime before I got into film, so I have an idea of when… but where, why, and how I first heard about her, I have no recollection.
One thing I do recall: Hiromix gave me a direction to head, something to strive towards that I sometimes forget, but still hope to find one day. Her work serves as an ongoing influence, and she’s one of my favorite photographers.
I have a wrinkled piece of paper that I scribbled some project notes on back in 2013 at the latest, and the flash-lit, diaristic style that Hiromix (and Nagashima) was known for is the first item. There’s just something about the sort of random melange of subjects, presented in a sort of schizophrenic order that suggests a way forward for me, or, rather, is something like what I imagine myself making.
It isn’t a case of “anyone could do that”—I absolutely could not make the photographs that Hiromix made, just like your uncle couldn’t make a Pollock or a Rothko. But Hiromix’s aesthetic and style just seems so effortless and is presented in such a straightforward manner, and that’s what I want for my own work.
I looked for some of her books early on but balked at the price… smh. Either the prices have come way down, or buying all those super-expensive, long out-of-print photobooks has left me jaded, because they don’t seem all that dear now. But one Saturday morning I stumbled into a Half Price Books—it was 2015 sometime, if I recall–and I found Hiromix, Hiromix’s 1998 book from Steidl that more or less brought her to the western eye, and I bought it immediately, without even the slightest hesitation. I think I paid $29.99 for it. Maybe $19.99, even.
At the time, I thought it was a sort of retrospective-type book, but from what I can tell—there’s scant information online, in English, anyway—I’m no longer so sure, and I’m not sure it matters. Given that Hiromix’s first real exposure was her zine Seventeen Girl Days, which won the 11th New Cosmos of Photography (1995), with Girls Blue coming in 1996, and this book in 1998, how much of a retrospective could it be? Well…
According to Philbert Ono, who I honestly wouldn’t quote or link to otherwise, the 122 photographs in Girls Blue were selected from 30,000 that she’d taken since she turned 17. What is that… 1000 rolls of film or thereabouts? And all taken in the year between Seventeen Girl Days and Girls Blue? I don’t know. That’s a ton of film to shoot in one year. Given my view of the rest of Ono’s review… given that no one else I’ve read makes any mention of this figure… given that Patrick Remy edited Hiromix, with Hiromix and Mathieu Trautman listed as Designers, I’m guessing there might be some overlap with her earlier books Girls Blue (1996), Hikari (1997), and/or maybe Japanese Beauty (1997), though probably not much. If Ono is right, by 1998 when Hiromix came out, and if Hiromix kept up her pace, there was more than enough material to choose from, without repeating herself too much.
And it doesn’t matter anyway.
Hiromix opens with a handwritten, and often-repeated quote that more or less captures the spirit of the book, and likely her whole photography project up to that point.
Youth reflects transparency and beauty.
Despite our lack of experience, the world often confronts us with unforgivable situations.
We believe, more than anyone, in things that cannot be seen.
Many unknown worlds are awaiting us.
Surrounded by people and things we love,
we smile carefree smiles.
It was perhaps because I wanted to keep a record of this, that I take photos of myself.Hiromix.Hiromix. Steidl, 1998. unpaged.
And the book is full of carefree smiles, not so much from Hiromix, who rarely smiles, or her friends, really, most of whom pull goofy faces most of the time. One even weeps. But the world is smiling and open, and appears full of interest and fascination. Ceilings, filthy puddles, piles of rocks, rollercoasters, reflections, flowers, a puddle of clothes, shoes akimbo, breakfast and dinner: the democracy of her vision reminds me of American Surfaces-era Stephen Shore, and her skill with the snapshot is unmatched.
Every other writer I’ve read nearly leads with Hiromix herself. And maybe that’s the obvious place to start? The book opens with a mirror selfie, after all. And I get it: young Hiromix was cute. But is that all there is to see? I don’t know. It’s not what I first saw. Not at all. I saw the freedom, the reminder of youth and wonder that I struggle to hold on to, that dwindles more and more with every passing year. I found myself captured by the soft focus, the muted color, the grain, and it’s the quality of the images that convinced me to start shooting film. If it was just cute Hiromix, I doubt I would’ve remained interested as long as I have.
Anyway. Hiromix is, personally, one of the foundational photobooks for me. It both nearly started my photobook collection and is the major reason I started shooting film in the first place. And it’s why I’m not going to give the book a rating… The photography is absolutely fantastic; the matte, heavyweight paper stock and Smyth-sewn binding is probably my favorite way of printing a photobook, and coming from Steidl as it did, it’s beautifully printed and bound; the diaristic style and all-over, scattershot sequencing is a major influence and driving force behind my photography. So you can make your own assumptions about how I would rate the book.
Hiromix is long out of print, and prices are absolutely crazy. Her first book, Girls Blue is available for less than half of the cheapest copy of Hiromix I can see (at time of writing). I almost hesitate to write about it. Given that my last two reviews were Yurie Nagashima’s Self-Portraits and Ninagawa Mika’s Sugar and Spice, it seemed right to continue the reign of 1990s female Japanese photography stars. But still. It’s a shame this great book is so hard to come by.