Portraits are always, on some level, about masks, about self-presentation and composing yourself in front of the camera. “I believe good portraits show the character and personality of the subject,” says Hiroshi Watanabi. “But this has become difficult, since most people are well-educated about photography and know how to pose.” That said, Watanabi’s portraits, taken of people from all over the world, seem to get beyond that pose, to reflect something of the essence of each person, from the beautiful young woman in a brick factory in Udaipur who gazes unflinchingly at the viewer, to the little boy, formally dressed but holding tight to his mother’s hand at a wedding in Jaipur, to the lined face of Jose Humberto Gorka in his wide-brimmed black hat and white collar.
Visually, Watanabi’s toned gelatin silver prints bring to mind August Sander’s People of the Twentieth Century, in which Sander set out to document categories of people in Germany’s Weimar Republic. But Watanabi’s nuanced portraits are less about types and more about what is singular and unique in each of his subjects.