No monkeying around with Hiroshi Watanabe’s new photo series

Hiroshi Watanabe monkey photo

You can’t go wrong with pictures of clothed monkeys. You just can’t—the Internet is bound to eat that shit up. What otherwise sounds silly, has been tastefully executed by US-based photographer Hiroshi Watanabe, in an upcoming exhibit titled Suo Sarumawashi. I believe that Watanabe’s primate photography foray is not only eye-candy, but also matter for the creative mind too.


The series features shots of Japan’s famous monkey performers, dressed in their traditional performance garb. Watanabe photographed with a Hasselblad, on a basic backdrop, and developed on film. Less is more, right? In this case: yes. The final product is strangely captivating and intrigued me to investigate.


Samurawashi literally translates to “monkey dancing,” and is just that: an acrobatic street-performance featuring clothed Japanese macaques that act out skits. In Japan, it ranks alongside Noh and Kabuki as a traditional art-form. Samurawashi all but disappeared in the 1970’s due to rapid urbanization; cars took over the roads and TVs captured audiences. Yet, thanks to the Suo Samurawashi Association (who’ve dedicated their efforts to preserving the tradition), Watanabe was able to work with the primates and see his idea to fruition. I felt haunted upon first viewing the photos and couldn’t understand why. But after understanding the aforementioned, I realize it’s probably a move on Watanabe’s part, in order to reflect the slow death of a cherished Japanese art. Powerful stuff, if you ask me.


I immediately think of Faile’s Pray Wheels or Sagmeister’s sabbaticals. Explorations such as these are reminders to any creative that there is much inspiration to be found in foreign cultures. You’d be surprised at the strange traditions you can uncover through doing so, and the great ideas that will eventually emerge. Who would’ve thought that it would take monkeys garbed in Nike and kimonos to make me realize so.



September 5, 2013 / By