Hideoki was born in Suwa City, in the mountains of Nagano, in 1942. His family moved to Tokyo shortly after that, just as World War II was approaching its climax. One of his first memories is of being three years old, escaping the firebombing of Tokyo with his mother clenching his and his sister’s hands with his brother strapped to her back. Tokyo was burning with such ferocity that Hideoki remembers seeing the embers of corrugated metal landing in the river and thinking, “why is the river on fire”?
He was sent to Chiba to live with his Aunt and Uncle because of a lack of food. One day the mountains would become his obsession, but at first, the sea was his playground. In middle school, he would swim across Tokyo Bay to Kanagawa and take buses back home. Hideoki was not accepted getting into his highschool of choice despite studying extremely hard. He failed the entrance exam by just one point.
Unable to reconcile the unfairness of the system, he decided that he and Japan didn’t match. He still ended up going to the well-regarded Waseda High School, but couldn’t be bothered with school and spent all of his time in the mountains, climbing. He would sneak off to climb mountains, peak after peak, even in winter, sometimes leading teams of climbers many years his senior. He was a dedicated climber that one day he came home to find a note taped to the door: “We moved, here’s the new address.”
“ The first time I held a camera, I thought I took the best photos of my life.”
After Hideoki graduated high school, a nature photographer hired him to be his assistant and to carry his 8×10 camera to remote locations. One day, the photographer let Hideoki snap the shutter. It was an epiphany. On a day-off when Hideoki was 18, the photographer lent him his Rolleiflex, and Hideoki shot his first series,” Fishing Village in Japan.” Today he thinks those may be the best photos he has ever taken.
From Tokyo to New York City
A year later, Hideoki decided to make a 180-degree change. As he sat on the beach with his friends listening to Coltrane, watching the ships go by, an adventure came to him: How cool would it be to listen to Jazz in New York City? He decided that he would leave Japan and the mountains and move to New York City to become a photographer. He was able to obtain a passport with the help of some friends who worked at a large corporation.
In March of 1963, aged 21, Hideoki landed in The Big Apple with little money and a limited grasp of English. He sought out the legendary fashion photographer HIRO, who, in turn, introduced him to James Moore. Hideoki convinced Jimmy to hire him as his assistant, with an uncanny ability to wield the word “yes.” Under Jimmy’s direction, he worked day and night photographing and making prints. His dedication paid off, a remarkably short three years later when he landed assignments for Harpers Bazaar and New York Times Magazine.
When his visa expired in 1968, Hideoki left NYC for London. As a Harper’s Bazaar photographer, he received assignments with Queen Magazine and other publications. He survived the winter in London and returned to NYC, where he continued to flourish and win new clients.
In his time photographing, Hideoki met Mary Arthars. Mary became his muse, and later his wife. A year and a half after meeting, they welcomed their first child, Mitsu. Then, after many exhilarating years working in NYC, Japan beckoned him home.
In 1976, Hideoki became the first Japanese photographer to succeed in NYC and made a triumphant return to Japan. Renowned for his achievement spread through Japan’s advertising industry and demanded his services was unparalleled. In 1979, the family welcomed Yuka, who would become Hideoki’s climbing partner and photography apprentice in her teens. Between numerous assignments, he took long camping trips with his family, following his heart back to the mountains. On these trips, driving the Volkswagen van he brought back from America, Hideoki captured many of his signature black and white photo series.
“Black to white, all the gray tones that’s all that counts. That makes beauty.”
The Founding of Hideoki Productions
After six years in Japan, it was time for Hideoki to return to his adopted home in New York. In the summer of 1983, he established a studio in Chelsea. And in 1989, he founded Hideoki Productions Ltd. His TV commercial and photography work took him around the globe. He worked with some of the world’s famous movie stars, rock stars, politicians, athletes, and models.
Hideoki retired in 2006. His retirement marked a new beginning for his son Mitsu Hagiwara, who took the reins of the company in 2005 and restructured the thriving production company into a second-generation business. The company has evolved continuously since then, through the tireless work of Mitsu and his wife Maria, who later joined the company and further expanded its business.
Pottery and Painting
Hideoki means “to build” in Japanese, and it is in Hideoki’s nature to create. After years of production and photography, painting and pottery became his new means of art. He also painted in his earlier years and discovered his love of ceramics. In contrast to the more ephemeral art of photography, with pottery, he can experience his work more tangibly, feeling the texture and temperature of the material.
Regardless of the medium, Hideoki finds joy in creating something for the sake of beauty.
“ I didn’t have the chance to climb mountains in New York.
But taking those black and white photographs, that’s like climbing to me.”