Photographer, Taro Hirano; Still looking for him

I'm sure everyone has memories of being crazily into something when they were a kid. Don't really know why, but becoming deeply consumed by something, we tend to forget about time. For Taro Hirano, it was skateboarding. The photo book, “I HAVEN'T SEEN HIM”, is from his own experiences. As a boy who obsessed over the American culture with his friends, now, all grown up, facing the yearning he had back in the day.

In 1987, skateboard company, Powell Peralta, released their third skateboard video, “The Search for Animal Chin.” When this was released, Hirano was in junior high school, and along with his friends, collected allowances to purchase the video. The storyline of the movie is about the Bones Brigade members travels, by searching for a fictional skateboard master named Animal Chin. The phrase, “HAVE YOU SEEN HIM”, was used symbolically. The photos from this book were taken at, “Wallows”, on Oahu, Hawaii, where a scene from the movie was filmed. The episode of this photo book was created by Hirano's words.

– How did you decide to make a photo book about “Wallows”? Taro: It was always on my mind, I always wondered where that was. Actually, I had never been there until recently, when I had the opportunity to visit for work, and was able to gain a day off as the work finished early. The editor, whom I went to Hawaii with, went surfing, but I don't surf, and recalled, “Oh! Wallows is in Hawaii”, and asked where it was located and proceed to find it.

– How was the impression of actually being there? Taro: The graffiti there was weathered, as I had expected, and the shape of the path had changed from all the skateboard traffic, but almost everything else was the same as I had remembered it in the video. No one was there, nonetheless, I became really excited alone. As soon as I saw the spot with my own eyes I felt like taking pictures. It was such a hot day, I took my T-shirt off and wrapped it around my head. There were helicopters passing overhead from time to time so I became worried, someone might think I was doing something I was not supposed to. As I was shooting, a few locals in the area started to chat with me, I also ended up bumping into some local skaters, which made me feel relieved.

– Did you see the vision of photo book when you actually took the pictures? Taro: Yes, I usually become inspired by places. About “The Wallows”, I was so attracted to the place it made me want to immediately take pictures. As I was shooting some shoes and a broom that was left behind, I began to feel that this was something of a sign. Then, I thought, “Oh! That's right, the story of searching for Animal Chin is actually overlapping.” It was at that moment the title of the photo book came to my mind. When I issued a photo collection called POOL, it was the same way, and seems to be my usual pattern. I always shoot with instinct or just a desire, but once I start shooting, it becomes verbalized as what it means to me. When people have time, they think in words. That's why it was complimented as, Animal Chin, this time.

– If you remember, could you tell us your first impression watching, “The Search for Animal Chin”, as a kid? Taro: Simply, the skaters who were in the video were so cool. How they skated, fashion, actions and the small details of their behaviors all influenced me. I bought a lot of Powell Peralta stuff. Particularly, I can't even remember how many Lance Mountain skateboards I bought. I imagined his personality through his skate style and behaviors, I loved it!

– Could you please share with us how you came to publish this photo book from DESCENDANT's publishing label, sign? Taro: I think how it started, was because Tetsu Nishiyama and I discussed, “Could we make something?” We put ideas out and decided on producing T-shirts for the shop we first purchased our BMX's and skateboards from, a store called, “Circus Circus.” I asked one of our childhood friend, Kaku Hongo, to draw the artwork. At that time, I had already visited Wallows, but wanted to shoot more photos for inspiration, then it popped in my mind, “that's it! If I made a photo book of the Wallows, it would mean so much to do it together with Tetsu”, so I told him about the idea. I think this series of efforts is a reflection of our initial impulse. I feel like focusing on it again and re-expressing it as we are now, will make us intake them in our bodies again, which will push us going forward.

– For this photo book, there are comments from members of the Bone Brigade. Taro: Yes, I was really impressed. They are my superstars. I really wanted their comments, so I asked my friend Taku (Taku Takemura), who presides over EL BURRITO'S, to email Lance. His response was, “I will reach out to the guys who are still looking for the Animal Chin.”

– At the photo exhibition, that was held at the same time as the photo book release, featured, was Tommy Guerrero's live performance, showing of “The Search for Animal Chin”, as well as workshops with EL BRRITO'S AND DESCENDANT, which was very conceptual. Taro: Having Guerrero as a live performer surpassed my expectations. We did some shooting together in Niigata, for DESCENDANT's zine, a year ago. Tetsu and I had been talking about how we wanted to do something with him again, the next comes to Japan. I know I couldn't have done it on my own, with the help from Tetsu and other friends, we were able to make this happened. It was so exciting to put on a showing of the Animal Chin, on such a big screen, something I could never have imagined when I was young. I want to tell my younger self, “I will be watching the Animal Chin, on the big screen, with subtitles, with everyone, in 30 years.”

– You have been looking for Animal Chin for 30 years. Do you think you will be able to find him soon? Taro: He is still far away. I have been chasing but can only see his shadow. The moment I feel I've gotten close, he is one to two steps ahead of me. There is an Asian guy I occasionally run into at trade shows in America, who wears an ID card around his neck that states, “I'm the Animal Chin.” Of course I don't believe him and know its a joke, but could it be?

– For you, Hirano, what is Animal Chin? Taro: I think he is the attraction of the skateboard, something that I encountered when I was a kid. Like an idol in the 80's, he is distant and unreachable. Being out of reach makes the journey and memories last longer.

How would you like people to see “I HAVEN'T SEEN HIM”? Taro: There is not certain massage for this photo book. I don't want to limit it, as everyone would accept it in different ways. It is okay to enjoy the compositions and create your own imagination of what's there or what's not there.

Taro Hirano
Born in Tokyo, in 1973. Admired BMX during junior high school, and while gathering information from the overseas magazines, he encountered skateboarding. After graduating from Musashino Art University, became an assistant at Kodansha, then became a freelance photographer and has been active since 2000.