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Kenji Hirasawa's Celebrity Expo

The Tokyo-born London-based photographer examines the cult of celebrity using thermographic cameras

On his quest to explore the meaning of human life, Tokyo born Kenji Hirasawa has taken photography beyond surface value. Graduating with a major in Media from Keio University in Environmental Information, Hirasawa’s unique background has steered his creative energies into experimenting with conceptual techniques of photography, to take a deeper look into human condition.

Now living in London, his latest work is a study into the phenomenon of celebrity. Using a thermographic camera the series captures warm glowing bodies eagerly crowding around and outlining vacant wax structures. Shot in the world famous Madame Tussauds, where flocks of tourists queue daily to gain access into the Mecca of celebrity, the works question their obsession with human hierarchy and through Hirasawa’s use of heat sensing photography, celebrities’ dependency on the collective public is visualised.  

Dazed Digital: Your studies in Environmental Information are an interesting background to your art. In what ways has this influenced your work?
Kenji Hirasawa:
While I was studying, new types of communication methods with new and more exciting contents for the post-internet society were constantly suggested. This understanding forms the platform for my works and through analysis of remote sensing and various satellite information, I become interested in visualising them (the collected information). Therefore, I have a thing about visuals of electronic waves, infrared lights, microwaves etc.

DD: What inspires you to explore human life?
Kenji Hirasawa:
I think it is almost impossible to live alone in this society. In many ways we need to support each other. We need a collective effort to make this world a more comfortable place to live in. The existence of simple warmth from the person next to me is enough to make my day and that makes me want to investigate the meaning of life even more.

DD: How did the concept for Celebrity originate and how did you begin using
thermal cameras?
Kenji Hirasawa:
It all started when one of my teachers in my remote sensing class showed a thermal camera to me. I became fascinated instantly by its function. The colours of the environment shown through that camera were so different from human colours. I felt its potential and started taking portraits of my friends. Looking through the lens of a thermal camera, life seems so beautiful. This activity slowly develops into a more complex series such as "Celebrity". To me, it is really hard to explain celebrity in words; therefore, I made them (my research) into visuals.

DD: What does it mean to be a celebrity?
Kenji Hirasawa:
Celebrity depends on how one interprets it. Hopefully my works can suggest some kind of opinion to the viewers.

DD: Are there any interesting contrasts you've found between the way eastern and
western worlds celebrate hierarchy?
Kenji Hirasawa:
Hierarchy is like the food chain in the natural world. It exists in both eastern and western worlds. In Japan, we celebrate it with respect and sincere appreciation as I see it as noblesse oblige, a value that separates us from animals and a reputation that should be handled with responsibility.

DD: How do you think the medium of photography translates human condition?
Kenji Hirasawa:
Human condition can all be put into a frame where people can analyse them again and again. I'm using thermal camera. Human condition can be seen as burning red in it and I like what I'm seeing. If I ever find a definition of what is human, I will make a scientific film out of it.

DD: If photography is a means for you to study human life - what have you found?
Kenji Hirasawa:
This question made me recall back memories from my younger days. I once brought the thermal camera and did a self-portrait in the snow. I was surprised that I was shown as blue colour where my surroundings were shown in deep navy colour. I seem to be sinking into a deep ocean. Only then I realised when my time is up, one day I will be a part of the nature, like any other human being, eventually.

Celebrity, Kenji  Hirasawa; KK Outlet, 42 Hoxton Square, London, 8 – 30 July, 2011