by Sheung Yiu

He has put couples in tiny bathtubs, he has sealed couples in futon vacuum bags, it is puzzling how he can get his friends and sometimes complete stranger from the clubs in Tokyo to go through the things he put them through. For a decade, he has shoot copious amount of quirky couple portraits, but beneath the veil of vividness is his strong desire to spread love to the world. On his website, he writes ‘From two people to a group, a town to a community, a city to a country, from border to border, the ring of love shall prevail.’

I met Japanese photographer HAL in Hong Kong Photo Book Fair earlier in March. He was presenting his photo projects in Hong Kong Art Centre with other Japanese photographers. I was lucky enough to be invited by the photographer, well known for his series of portraits of couples in vacuum bag, to get some behind-the-scene photos of his shoot in Hong Kong. We talked about the story behind the project.

(The Q & A below is an edited transcript of HAL’s response to my question. 

© Tam Kwai Hung and Sheung Yiu

Why are you interested in photographing couple?

HAL: Out of all matters, love is the most important element in the world. All worldly matters point towards the existence of love. And the most suitable subject to embody the concept of love is a couple.

Why do you have this idea of putting couples in vacuumed plastic bags?

HAL: Men and women are attracted to each other and try to become one. This fundamental desire carries an energy that affects all matters in the world. I wonder why human pay such an effort to become one, maybe we were originally one.

I visualise the mutual attraction and power of love by literally putting couples together. Gravity are felt stronger when two objects are closer to each other. Chemical adhesion is more powerful when glue is thinly applied. The power of love, just like gravity and adhesion, is greatest when two people are the closest.

I decided to ‘vacuum-pack’ couples as a method to express coherence.

© Tam Kwai Hung and Sheung Yiu

© Tam Kwai Hung and Sheung Yiu

How do you approach the couples? What is the reaction when they knew that they were to be put in a vacuumed plastic bag?

HAL: I look for couples to shoot anywhere anytime, sometimes I find my models through social networks. Everyone is surprised when I told them about the vacuumed bag. I only shoot couples who are opened to the idea. Reactions on set are of two extremes. Some couples were rather easy to shoot. Other just did not work no matter how hard we tried.

© Tam Kwai Hung and Sheung Yiu

There have been a lot of discussions around Japanese love culture, the commoditization of love, the sexual fetishes and perversion. Was your project influenced by these ideas or was it a separate story? In what social context should we understand your work?

HAL: My work is original, I did not make these connections when I shoot, but I grew up in Japan, maybe I am really influenced by these ideas, but the influence is an unconscious one.

© Tam Kwai Hung and Sheung Yiu

Which is the favourite couple that you have photographed in ‘Flesh Love’?

HAL: Every photo is important to me.

Who (artists and/or photographers) inspires your work?

HAL: Traditional Japanese photographer such as Daido Moriyama.


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