I’ve made no secret about being a rather massive Hiromix fan. I credit an encounter with her work in 2010 or so that really got me interested in photography, and it’s all been downhill from there…. Girls Blue is Hiromix’s first book, as far as I know, and for many years I thought it was out of reach, monetarily-speaking. Then, sometime in 2020 or 2021, about the time I started my previously mentioned Moriyama binge, I also went on a Hiromix binge, and found a fairly clean, if rather smelly copy of Girls Blue for an acceptable price.
To the chagrin of some early commenters, there is only one NSFW picture in all of Girls Blue. It—a picture of a bare-chested Hiromix walking towards the camera in a nondescript room—appears on the back of the wrap-around cover and is otherwise unremarkable. It’s not the most prurient thing out there, and ymmv, and neither its inclusion nor the lack of any more explicit photos throughout have any bearing on my interest in the book or Hiromix’s work more broadly. Sadly, it means that the unboxing is age-restricted. Apologies and viewers beware.
My early experiences with Hiromix were images online and I don’t remember where. I may have even come across her work back in Art school in the mid 00s, even… That said, looking back at my earlier review of the great Hiromix Steidl book that I found for cheap in a Half Price Books many years ago, I say that I found her in the early 2010s. Who knows. I’ve been a fan for as long as I can remember, and nearly everything I want or have to say about Girls Blue I already said in my Hiromix review.
One thing jumps out at me from that earlier review. I spent way too long talking about whether the Steidl book is a sort of retrospective or not. With Girls Blue (and Japanese Beauty in hand) I realize now that images used in the Steidl book are unique. They look similar to Girls Blue, but only because images of some of the same people, photographed within a few weeks or a year or two of one another, appear in both books. And, really, Girls Blue is quite different from the later Steidl book.
In looking at Girls Blue the first dozen times, my mind went first to American Surfaces-era Stephan Shore, and it stayed there. If Shore were a Japanese girl a couple of years older than me, living in 1990s Tokyo, Girls Blue might be the sort of book he made. It has the meals, the friends and strangers, the city scenes, but instead of the sorta dingy 1970s US, it’s all glossy 1990s Japan. And where American Surfaces looks both familiar and nostalgic, Girls Blue looks like my adolescence, albeit halfway around the world and full of Japanese models and a rather higher class of living. It’s not nostalgia, per se, but rather more like life that I saw on 90210 or something: both intimately familiar and far out of reach.
I’m struck here by something… In American idioms, to be “blue” is to be sad, or down, or something like that. But there’s nothing like that in Girls Blue. Everything is joyous and wonderful, and there’s a sense of something approaching glee on nearly every page. Hiromix has a picture of a tearful girl on one page; not so Girls Blue. In short, I suspect “Blue” means something different in Japanese. So I made a quick google. According to japanese-mania.com, “blue” indicates something “…pale, faint, fresh, young, and immature.” That sorta makes total sense and I’m glad I cleared that up for myself.
Now. In my recent review of two of Daido Moriyama’s Record zines, I wrote some about losing interest in photobooks. It’s not just photobooks: I’ve lost a load of interest in photography in general. Hiromix—and Girls Blue— makes me remember why I picked up the camera in the first place, and sparks a desire to get started again. At the same time, and in the same way, I’m filled with despair at the knowledge that I’ll never make anything like Girls Blue, or anything else that Hiromix made in the mid- to late-1990s and early 00s.
That’s ok, though: I’m James, a middle aged white man from Texas. Hiromix is a woman from Japan who hasn’t made anything like Girls Blue (or Hiromix) in two decades: she’s moved on. If I can’t, well, I was never there anyway. God willing, I can get back to photography and feel something of what Hiromix expresses in her brief statement at the back of Girls Blue:
Photography is a place where I can express all what I feel and think in everyday life. It would not be understood by grown-ups or kids—only we can see what it is. So, I don’t expect everyone to understand it. It just makes me so happy when it reaches to some people, even a few. And I don’t want to forget this BLUE feeling of us, GIRL, forever.
’96 summer HIROMIXHiromix. Girls Blue. Rockin’ On, Inc., Japan, 1996. unpaginated. Emphasis mine.
If I have one quibble with Girls Blue, it would be the glossy paper. After many years with the matte paper of Hiromix, I just can’t get along with the glossy finish. That said, it suits the subject and ethos I think, so…. Also, my copy smells of mildew or something and I’m not sure why. I hoped the smell would fade over time: if the smell faded at all, it faded insufficiently.
Girls Blue is long out of print, but copies are available used and they’re generally about half the price of the Steidl book. If you still don’t get the work, well, I feel a bit sorry for you, but I guess it isn’t for everyone.
Over the coming weeks, I hope to go back and forth between Moriyama and Hiromix. I may run out of Hiromix books before I run out of Moriyamas, sadly, but there are Nagashima books on the To-Review shelves too, and 4 of the Moriyama books on the shelves are part of a 4 volume series, so maybe I’ll get there with just Hiromix. I have maybe 3 Moriyama posts worth of books, and maybe 3 or 4 Hiromix books, so it’s about even, I think. GoGo gender equality!