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Photography Student Kenji Hirasawa’s Collaboration with Issey Miyake Men

On 21 January this year, Issey Miyake Men presented its Autumn / Winter 2016 collection at Palais de Tokyo in Paris. Among the designs on the catwalk were striking prints by then second-year student Kenji Hirasawa (MA Photography, 2016), made in collaboration with the Issey Miyake Men team. Hirasawa’s thermographic equine photographs have been digitally printed on ponte jersey and cotton broadcloth shirts and his bold, colour-saturated images stood out, even amongst a collection rich in print, colour and texture.

The collection appeared in shops this August, a few months after Kenji's graduation show at the Royal College of Art, and will be on sale until December. While he has found his way to fine art photography, it was his admiration for fashion photographer Nick Knight that first brought Hirasawa to London in 2008, seeking the kind of creative freedom and diverse environment that he imagined would nurture a talent like Knight’s.

Kenji Hirasawa has been using a thermographic camera for over ten years, having first encountered the machine while studying satellite remote sensing as part of his undergraduate degree at Keio University in Tokyo. Operating entirely differently to a common camera, the device detects heat and forms an image using infrared radiation. The technology was first developed for military purposes and now has a wide variety of applications including medicine, archaeology and painting conservation, but Hirasawa decided to turn the camera on those closest to him, taking intimate portraits of his friends and family.

Later on, he extended these portraits to Madame Tussaud’s waxwork museum in London, creating a series that he calls Celebrities. These images throw into stark relief the disjuncture between the cold, ghostly void of the wax model and the body heat of the tourists that pose alongside or embracing the object of their admiration or affection. In 2011, London-based publishers Bemojake published the series as a book called Celebrity, describing it as ‘a visually exciting criticism on the social impact of idolisation and capricious desires’. The book was profiled in magazines including Creative Review, and was nominated for the 2012 Paris Photo Aperture Foundation Photo Book Award.

Between his first and second year at the RCA, Kenji Hirasawa met the designer Yusuke Takahashi of Issey Miyake Men. The photographer explained: ‘He asked me to show my work, so I brought some books and one 64 x 48" print. He liked them, then the collaboration started right there!’

At the time, Hirasawa was moving away from the human figure and starting to take pictures of animals. ‘I have a friend who raises horses on a farm in Hokkaido,’ says Hirasawa, ‘so I went there and started to take photographs. Horses always live with a partner and get stressed if they’re alone. There was one horse there whose partner had just been sold on, and I photographed the one left behind as it ran, in distress, at a fence. I took the image at that moment. Afterwards, we made a selection of images and started to think about how they’d work on the garment.’

While fashion was a longstanding interest for Hirasawa, working with a big company and sharing his creative process was a new experience. ‘As an artist,’ he says, ‘it could be a bit of a risk, because your artworks can be used in any way. It wouldn’t be in my control any more, but I was looking for ways to expand the opportunities for my work and my inspirations. I think the RCA really encourages students to try something different. So, I was nervous but at the same time I was excited to see the outcome.’

From August to December, these designs are for sale, which is another new experience for Hirasawa. ‘That’s a really nice aspect to it,’ he says. ‘I don’t want to limit my art only to fine art contexts. If people can wear the images, they carry them all the time and that’s a nice way to live with art.’ 

Kenji Hirasawa's collection can be seen at the ISSEY MIYAKE London store, located at 10 Brook Street, W1S 1BG.