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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 of photographers Felix Thiollier, August Sander or Irving Penn. In the late XIXth century Thiollier photographed workers in the French country side, in 1920s’ Sander’s People of the 20th Century made a big splash when he photographed ordinary folks – the farmers, cooks, bricklayers – in everyday situations in their work clothes, and Penn’s portraits that turned regular people who normally were not photographed because they appeared too ordinary and nondescript into most beautiful models, became historical. While most people these days present themselves in their best light for the camera, K-NARF & SHOKO go against the grain and shows Japan’s traditional workers in their everyday outfits without special clothing or make-up. They do not use filters to iron out the wrinkles in their suits or faces. They document the workers in a classy yet sober style. In this way they also show them their respect. The resulting works of art embody an important aspect of barely highlighted mainstay of Japanese culture - the strong respect for any kind of work and the people who are doing it -- before it disappears from our modern society.
K-NARF & SHOKO wanted this project to be a transformation, turning what is quotidian into an “Extra-Ordinary visual archive 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 artist-duo have already thought this project to be a visual time capsule of sorts that can only grow in significance over the years. They have already prepared this project to be exhibited in the future, year 2042, in a selection of international museums already selected by themselves. To carry out this unique project in which there are elements of Japanese and European culture, the artist-duo used their own contemporary approach to photography but also drew inspiration from several historic role models who made it possible.
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. In 1996, after he acquired one of the first digital camera, he started a new approach to photography blending up-coming technologies together with manual processing techniques. He had his first exhibition in Tokyo in 2001 and in 2005 IdN, Hong-Kong publisher, released NEO-PHOTO a book dedicated to his work. Later K-NARF invented PHOTOGRAFFITI a contemporary way of making street photography that lead him to develop his singular Tape-o-Graphy 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.K-NARF met SHOKO in Tokyo in 2014, they started working together in 2016 with the HATARAKIMONO PROJECT. It was first presented in 2018 at the Kyotographie International Photography Festival.Bio
1970 Born in Saint-Etienne, France 2001 move to Tokyo, first exhibition in Japan at SPUTNIK-IDÉE in Tokyo 2006 invited to be one of the 40 first members of the prestigious “HP Influencers program”. (He is the youngest member on the side with MAGNUM photographers and other established photographers such as Joel Meyerowitz) 2007 solo exhibition at the Rencontres d’Arles international photo festival 2008 invents PHOTOGRAFFITI as a new street photography approach and start pasting them in the streets of Tokyo, Paris, Milan, Rome, NYC 2010 starts making his first large format TAPE-O-GRAPHS 2011 first exhibition in the USA, CLIC Gallery NYC 2014 move back his studio to Tokyo and meet SHOKO 2016 Began working on the HATARAKIMONO project together with japanese artist, Shoko Yamaguchi 2018 HATARAKIMONO PROJECT book co-published with DILECTA Editions, Paris 2019 started the “PLASTÉONTOLOGY PROJECT” in collaboration with TARA OCEAN FOUNDATION (Agnès b) 2020 K-NARF & SHOKO moved their studio from Tokyo to Kyoto