For many years after moving from Japan to the United States in 2002, Hiroyo Kaneko struggled to overcome the barrier she felt as a stranger taking photographs in a strange land. Then she was inspired to photograph people singing, and the barrier melted away.
Where she was or whether she was an outsider no longer mattered, as she got the push she needed to meet and talk to people and get them to sing in front of her camera. The result is Appearance, a series portraying people—most of whom she got to know through everyday life in San Francisco and Oakland—in their homes or other preferred settings, resonating with the world through a song of their choice.
“People express their feelings when they sing,” Kaneko writes in the book. “The melodies recall their yearnings for the past and the future. And the rhythms stir the subjects’ bodies.” As people sing, she says, gestures and expressions appear and fade and appear again, and though a photograph cannot capture the unseen feelings themselves, it can freeze one instant in that prismatic succession. So that is what Kaneko does: wait for that fleeting unexpected moment when emotion bursts over the singer’s face.
The act of singing is universal, and people doing it all share something in common. That gives the moments pictured by Kaneko the power to reach out to each and every one of us, across all different ages and backgrounds, races and genders.
When people sing, the most joyous things about them come floating out of their mouths. These photographs make me believe that.
——Motoyuki Shibata (translator and scholar of American literature)
Hiroyo Kaneko was born in 1963 in Aomori prefecture. She received a BA in French literature from Meiji Gakuin University in 1987 and an MFA in photography from the San Francisco Art Institute in 2005. She is based in Oakland, California.