Renowned Japanese American photographer Yasuhiro Wakabayashi, professionally known as Hiro, has passed away at the age of 90. He was best known for his successful editorial and commercial fashion photography career as well as his unique style that has been imitated by many.
The New York Times reports that Hiro died on Sunday, August 15, at his country home in Erwinna, Pennsylvania. The legendary fashion photographer’s death was confirmed to the Times by his son, Gregory Wakabayashi, and to Women’s Wear Daily (WWD) by Peita Carnevale, the producer of his New York City studio for more than 25 years.
The cause of Hiro’s passing has not been disclosed.
Born in Shanghai in 1930 to Japanese parents, Hiro emigrated to the United States in 1954 at the age of 24. Two years later, he became an assistant to Richard Avedon, one of the leading American photographers of the mid-20th-century celebrated for his portraits and fashion photographs with a distinct minimalist style.
Avedon quickly recognized Hiro’s visual talents, and Hiro left Avedon to become an independent photographer after a few years of assisting.
“Hiro was Richard Avedon’s good friend and closest colleague,” writes The Richard Avedon Foundation in a tribute on Instagram. “He began working as an assistant at the Avedon studio in the mid-1950s. By 1957 he had asserted himself as an independent photographer. Hiro and Avedon would go on to share a studio for the better part of two decades.”
Hiro’s unique photography style featured unexpected combinations of light and color as well as unique and surreal themes that are executed with technical precision through carefully controlling every aspect of his subjects, lighting, and technology. He produced iconic images that challenged boundaries — such as Harry Winston’s diamond necklace placed on a bovine hoof in 1963 — and graced the pages of publications such as Harper’s Bazaar, Rolling Stone, and Vogue.
Ruby is July’s birthstone, and several rubies make up this Harry Winston necklace photographed by artist Hiro.
— Getty (@GettyMuseum) July 12, 2021
“To look at a photograph by Hiro is to come face-to-face with a picture rife with unusual lighting effects, surprising angles, juxtaposing elements, and bold colors,” writes London’s Hamiltons, one of the world’s longest-standing photography galleries.
“Where there is no single answer,” Hiro told WWD in an interview regarding what drew him to photography. “No right or wrong. Only shades of interpretations.”
Hiro was named Photographer of The Year by the American Society of Magazine Photographers in 1969. In 1982, the magazine American Photographer devoted an issue to Hiro’s work and asked, “Is this man America’s greatest photographer?”
Hiro’s work was been published in three monographs and is held in collections of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, George Eastman House in New York, The Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Musée Européenne de la Photographie in Paris, the J. Paul Getty Museum in LA, the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, and the Kobe Fashion Museum in Japan.
Stunning, surreal images shot by legendary Japanese American fashion photographer Hiro, who passed away on Sunday. Born in Shanghai in 1930, the artist captured an innovative vision of American life. pic.twitter.com/kZvSuL7zi9
— Japan Society (@japansociety) August 19, 2021
“Hiro is no ordinary man,” Avedon once wrote about his friend. “He is one of the few artists in the history of photography. He is able to bring his fear, his isolation, his darkness, his splendid light to film.”