I always tell people that you can’t escape your humanness in New York. You’ll find people arguing, people crying, people kissing, rats running around, and people hugging—all in a one block radius. It is a stimulating environment. It gives way to an array of emotions, both for the participant and the spectator.
Recently, I’ve been recalling Mikiko Hara’s photography. A Japanese photographer, having studied at Keio University and the Tokyo College of Photography, she’s spent a lot of her career capturing the mundanity of life, like “riding the subway or shopping in a convenience store” (Getty).
I’ve been thinking about what this means, especially as I still process the early days of lockdown, where the only thing to look forward to (and even fear) were those mundane visits to the pharmacy. I’ve been thinking about the look of worry on the faces of essential workers, and how the smallest tasks suddenly became something much bigger.
Hara, who uses a snapshot technique by not looking through the viewfinder, captures a photo before the subject even realizes they’re lost in thought. It’s as if she is there in moments you would generally tell a friend that you’ve “spaced out.” She captures quiet moments; introspective moments. Moments that give way to the human experience.
In using a snapshot technique, the uncertainty in capturing the subject makes for a blurring between them and the photographer. There is nothing to set up; no lighting, no framing, no posing. Hara is truly as in the moment as she can get. All of the microexpressions, backgrounds, and overall subject matter become as fleeting as the release of the shutter. Because of this, there is a different idealism when you see someone in passing and have an internal thought, as opposed to seeing a photo of that same person in thought. The process is different.
When describing her photographs with Huck Magazine in 2014, Hara says that “The camera is more honest, simple, cool-headed and unforgiving than my own eyes.” Here, we get a glimpse into her approach and psyche; the camera is a tool to dissect a greater human concept. Moments of assumed privacy become part of a conglomerate experience.
It’s been helping me, personally, to think about this in terms of shared hardship and especially the “alone together” pandemic aphorism. While our mind has different perceptions of a person we see, the camera does not play tricks in the same way. When it comes to snapshot photography, what you see is what you get. In that sense, it is more sincere.
When Hara describes photos in her book, These Are Days, she states that “They are the photographs of somewhere, yet nowhere.” As the world tries to move on, whether it be through the pandemic, through natural disaster, or through blatant human rights violations, a lot of us are stuck in this liminal space and wondering how to run mundane errands on the brink of what seems to be a societal collapse.
Maybe we’re thinking about it all as we walk down the street or sit on the subway. Maybe the stress shows on our face without us even realizing it. But these microexpressions and furrowed brows give way to everyday people trying to make sense of their situation– the most human part of all.
Mikiko Hara’s photography maintains a sense of melancoly in its prominent blue hue. If you feel inspired to emulate her style and aesthetic, check out shooting in Cinestill’s film stock in 50D.