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  • Oct 30, 2020

Obituary: Hiroh Kikai (1945–2020)

Photographer HIROH KIKAI has died, aged 75.

On October 19, Japanese photographer Hiroh Kikai, known for his lively monochromatic portraits of anonymous civilians, passed away from lymphoma at the age of 75 in Tokyo.

Kikai grew up in Daigo, Yamagata prefecture. After majoring in philosophy at Tokyo’s Hosei University in 1969, his professor Sadayoshi Fukuda introduced him to Camera Mainichi magazine editor Shoji Yamagishi, who introduced him to photography and the works of American photographer Diane Arbus. In 1973, following various occupations, including brief stints as a truck driver and a fisherman, Kikai began to photograph pedestrians on the streets of Asakusa in Tokyo. In 1987, he published his first collection of black-and-white portraits taken against the plain exterior walls of the Sensoji Temple in the book Portrait of Kings: Sensoji Temple Precincts. This series won him the Photographic Society of Japan’s 1988 Newcomer’s Award. Following the success of his early works, he continued to photograph people near the temple, and in the span of his 45-year career published several other portraiture series including Ya-Chimata: Corridor of Kings (1996), Persona (2004), and Persona Final Chapter (2019).

Kikai is also well known for his projects in India and Turkey. India (1992) is a compilation of photographs from 1982 to 1990 of everyday life in various Indian provinces. His photographs from a nine-month visit to Turkey in 1994 investigating the country’s amalgamation of Asian and Western cultures are gathered in the book Anatolia (2011).

Throughout his life, Kikai presented solo exhibitions at global institutions, such as the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson in 1989, the Kyoto University of Art and Design in 2009, and Madrid’s Tabacalera Promocion del Arte in 2014, among others. He has also participated in international group exhibitions such as at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography in 1995 and 1997, as well as at Berlin’s Neue Nationalgalerie in 2006.

In early January, Kikai held his final solo exhibition, “Ya-Chimata,” at Tokyo's Nanzuka gallery, highlighting works from throughout his career. In his Instagram post on October 30, Nanzuka owner Shinji Nanzuka paid tribute to the photographer, saying, “Kikai's work cannot be described without his sincerity, affection, and curiosity . . . I have no words but ones of gratitude for having had the opportunity to work with the deceased in his later years.”

Ariana Heffner is an editorial intern at ArtAsiaPacific.

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