MFA Spotlights Famed Fashion Photographer Hiro

He was a staff photographer at Harper's Bazaar for nearly two decades.

mfa boston hiro photographer

‘Harry Winston Necklace, New York, 1963’ by Hiro / Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

“His rise was meteoric,” says Museum of Fine Arts curator Anne Havinga about famed fashion photographer Hiro, whose works she’s spotlighting in an upcoming exhibition.

Born Yasuhiro Wakabayashi to Japanese parents in Shanghai, Hiro came to the U.S. in 1954, set on learning from either Richard Avedon or Irving Penn, who were redefining modern photography through their works for the covers and pages of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar.

Within two years of arriving in New York, Hiro began assisting Avedon, who, after recognizing his talent, eventually named him an associate at his studio and introduced him to Alexey Brodovitch, renowned art director of Harper’s Bazaar.

His career—both as a staff photographer for the magazine and a freelancer—flourished, filled with powerful visuals like the 1963 image of a ruby-and-diamond Harry Winston necklace draped over a bovine hoof, which is featured in the MFA exhibition.

“I love the punch of his pictures, the bold use of color, the incredible sense of design.” says Havinga. “They’re very dynamic, they’re very elegant, they’re memorable. Many of his pictures are pictures that when you see them, you don’t forget them.”

Another photograph, from 1984, depicts a gold cuff by Elsa Peretti, with whom Hiro has been collaborating for decades, placed on a piece of bone, with ladybugs trailing over it.

“He makes these juxtapositions that are really striking and edgy and surreal,” says Havinga.

The MFA’s senior curator of photographs has long been a fan of Hiro and jumped at the chance to put his works on display when she received a request to organize another fashion photography exhibition—a genre that has become popular with visitors at the museum—following retrospectives on Mario Testino and Herb Ritts.

“Hiro: Photographs” encompasses 24 works, most of them from the 1960s and 1970s. Roughly half appear in a “vintage” format, printed around the same time the original negatives were made. The rest are more recently made digital prints—it’s the current preferred method for Hiro, who, now in his mid-80s, still lives and works in New York.

“There’s something extraordinarily dear about him,” says Havinga, who got a chance to collaborate with the artist on the exhibition, welcoming his keen eye for graphic design. “You’ll sense that there’s a real vision in not only the individual works, but the layout and the overall impact and feeling.”

Hiro’s son Greg Wakabayashi, a graphic designer, weighed in on the layout of the exhibition as well.

The MFA show marks Hiro’s first solo exhibition in a major U.S. museum.

“He doesn’t do very many exhibitions—he’s careful about what he does and how he parses out his time,” says Havinga. “In some ways we’re introducing him, even though he’s been around for decades.”

“Hiro: Photographs” will be on view from December 12 through August 14, 2016 at the Museum of Fine Arts, 465 Huntington Ave., Boston,