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In Japanese, the word hatarakimono is a sign of respect used for a hard-working person. It pays tributes to the honorable sacrifices they make for their work. It is not merely reserved for prestigious or glamorous labor. Instead, it can be used for any profession, even those that are seldom in the spotlight. It demonstrates respect for all of the people who make our everyday lives possible: bakers, airplane mechanics, gardeners, et al. In a project of the same name, French artist K-NARF transformed the concept of hatarakimono into a stunning series of works, photographing Japan’s everyday workers on the street in their work clothes. Using a portable background, he created an identical structure for all of the images. He posed bus drivers, souvenir shop cashiers, and udon cooks on a small pedestal in front of a gray background. The result is stunning: K-NARF has created a multi-faceted monument to the workers.
With the HATARAKIMONO, K-NARF picks up right in the famous footsteps of August Sander. In the 1920s, Sander’s People of the 20th Century made a big splash when he photographed ordinary folks in everyday situations in their work clothes. They authentically documented regular people – the farmers, cooks, bricklayers – who normally were not photographed because they appeared too ordinary and nondescript. While most people these days present themselves in their best light for the camera, K-NARF goes against the grain and shows Japan’s traditional workers in their everyday outfits without special clothing or makeup. He does not use filters to iron out the wrinkles in their suits or faces. He documents the workers in a classy yet sober style. In this way, he also shows them his respect. The resulting works of art embody an important aspect of Japanese culture, bowing to the workers’ diligence and accomplishments.
K-NARF wanted this project to be a transformation, turning what is quotidian into something extraordinary. From regular jobs, he has created works of art that will preserve current everyday life for the future. Especially in Japan, with its rapid technological developments and the increasing use of lifestyle-changing machines, these traditional professions could soon belong to the past. The project is a visual time capsule of sorts that can only grow in significance over the years. K-NARF drew inspiration from several historic role models who made it possible to carry out this unique project in which there are elements of Japanese and European culture.
When selecting the unusual format for the project, the artist took inspiration from an old photo art tradition. The portraits are reminiscent of the carte de visite, a kind of small photographic calling card from the 1860s that helped photography make major breakthroughs in popularity. These cards depicted people in a small, very handy portraits with which people could identify themselves. This would pave the way for real identification photos and a form of photography especially popular these days in Hollywood movies: mugshots. In HATARAKIMONO, the uniform format of the portraits experienced a metamorphosis. Not only is it used for to identify and depict the people, it is also an unmistakable sign of the times, capturing an entire cross-section of society. HATARAKIMONO is thus the carte de visite of the Japanese worker. But these portraits warrant more attention than being stuffed into a dusty briefcase like many of the predecessors – they deserve to be hung on the wall as art.
About the Artist
K-NARF was born in 1970 in Saint-Etienne, France and now lives in Tokyo. He describes himself as an artist pretending to be a photographer. He is self-taught in the art and craft of photography. As a 15 year-old, he installed a makeshift darkroom in his parents’ bathroom to develop his first black-and-white photos. Later he developed his unique Tape-O-Graph technique, which was also used for the HATARAKIMONO project. It involves the application of adhesive strips on developed photographs in order to give them a unique surface texture and extraordinary appearance. He started the project in 2016 together with his wife, Shoko Yamaguchi. It was first presented in 2018 at the Kyotographie International Photography Festival.Curriculum vitæ
1970 Born in Saint-Etienn, France 2016 Began working on the HATARAKIMONO project together with his wife, Shoko Yamaguchi Lives and works in Tokyo
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