Photojournalism, Portrait, Tokyo

Hirose Atelier – A traditional kimono dyeing workshop in Tokyo

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong (33)

I know I’ve been harping on about it endlessly but when you’re a photographer in a country such as Japan that is so rich traditional culture and arts, you’re going to have some easy days on the job.

Case in point, that time when I visited Hirose Atelier to take photos for an awesome book called Kimono Now. This place uses traditional Edo Komon stencilling techniques to print extremely intricate and detailed patterns or illustrations onto kimono fabric. Hirose-san, the owner, is a young star in the kimono world and one of the few remaining masters of this craft. It was absolutely fascinating visiting his workshop and seeing the painstaking process of dyeing and patterning swathes of fabric that will eventually be made into kimono.

Here are some outtakes from the book, hope you enjoy them!

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong (36)

Hirose-san lays out a bolt of fabric on one of his long tables in preparation for dyeing.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong (35)

This is the interior of the workshop. The boards in the ceiling are long tables to lay the fabric out on. The lighting was super even and of consistent color temperature as well, which I assume is essential for the work they do here. It also made it super easy for me to take photos.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong (34)

Hirose-san puts a stencil in place and makes ready to apply the dye using that spatula thing he has in his mouth

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong (33)

Applying the dye, which looks a bit like mud, requires a lot of concentration and even application of force. Check out his forearm, he’s ripped!Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong (31)Some fabric that has been through the process gathers in folds on a bench.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong (28)

Here is a wider shot of the whole process. As you can see the interior lighting was amazing, which helped me out a lot.Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong (27)Several of the wooden tools used to apply the dye hang drying above the sink.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong (24)

Alternate angle showing the progress he has made along the roll of kimono fabric.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong (22)

This guy in the back seemed responsible for laying out and pinning down the fabric.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong (21)

Here’s a roll of mostly completely patterned fabric. 

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong (20)

Detail of previous shot

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong (19)

Once a roll is done Hirose-san rolls it all up by hand. You can tell he’s done it a million times already because he’s really fast at it

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong (18)

In this tiny room is kept every single stencil and pattern he uses for his work, catalogued in the huge books that he his currently showing me. Some stencils are tiny, others are huge, requiring them to be rolled up for storage. 

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong (17)

Detail of a bird stencil as an example of some of the more intricate patterns he can do.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong (16)

 

Stencils that have been stacked and stored in order. The place was kept fastidiously dry to avoid mould growing, and other damaging side effects of moisture. 

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong (13)

I’ve actually forgotten what this sawdust is for! (the shoot was over a year ago) Anyway I thought it was a cool photo.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong (12)

 

I took the opportunity to take a portrait since the environment and lighting were just so perfect. I was still using my Nikon D4 and zoom lenses at this point. There are some things I miss about that setup and there are some things that I definitely don’t miss, such as the weight and inconsistent autofocus.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong (10)

Alternate portrait of Hirose-san back in the main workshop, once again loving the available lighting making full use of it.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong (9)

Just the entrance to the workshop.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong (8)

Here are some tubs of the dye used in his workshop. He makes them all by hand and you can see the process below:

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong (7)

Heating up some ingredients for mixing the dye on an old stove.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong (6)

Alternate angle – gotta get that sweet steam coming out the pot.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong (5)

Measuring and mixing for the final product.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong (4)

Wide shot to show the interior of the workspace where the dye gets made.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong (2)

Here’s a real close up so you can see just how fine the patterning is. All of it is done by hand!

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong (1)

Finally here’s another portrait of Hirose-san himself to close out this photo series.

That’s that for this week (month?), and I’ll try to be back soon with some more interesting photo-related shenanigans that I’ve gotten up to recently. The photos are piling up!