Haruhiko Kawaguchi, also known as Photographer Hal, has been known for vacuum-sealing couples in plastic bags to depict claustrophobic love. During his shoots, the air is filled with tension. Faces and skin physically shrivel up as they get sealed up, stoking fear and suffocation. There are only 10 seconds to shoot, or the subjects would be in danger after that.
But Kawaguchi now has his eyes set on vacuum-sealing something even bigger. In his newest piece, the artist attempts to vacuum-seal a whole house.
“This series that I’m working on started with a couple vacuum-sealed and photographed against a white background. Then, we went to the place where the couple had gone on their first date, and vacuum-sealed them there,” he told VICE.
“That’s when I had the idea of vacuum-sealing not only people but the background as well. This project started with the idea that by vacuum-sealing the background along with the subjects of the photo, I would be able to bring out a different flavour and not only focus on the couple’s worldview.”
When choosing locations, he said it is important that it matches the couple or the family he is shooting. “Would there be a location that could package your personalities? It doesn’t have to be the house you live in. It could be a special place for you as a couple, your workplace, somewhere you frequently go,” he told a couple who recently volunteered to be his subjects.
He also told VICE about the tedious process of undertaking such an ambitious project.
“First I go hunting for locations and decide which angle I’m going to film from. Then, I measure all the elements from that angle and buy some plastic curing sheets used for construction. Each item – the house, car, tree – are all taken to the location one by one and layered for the photographs. Finally, I package up the couple and shoot within 10 seconds of sealing them in,” he said.
The actual photo-taking is quick, but complicated.
“The weather is actually very important in this step, since packaging a whole house involves a lot of air. There are many air pockets in a house, as well as corners that will rip holes in the plastic. We had to try on a day that the wind was blowing away from the camera towards the house. That’s because when the wind blows away from the camera towards the subject, the plastic sticks better,” he said. “But too much wind blows the plastic around too much. So the shoot will take from 7 in the morning to 2 or 3pm.”
This is also why there's still much work left to do for his upcoming international solo exhibit, set for next year. "I plan to exhibit 10 pieces from this series then, but I’ve only completed 5 pieces over the past 3 years. Shooting is very labor intensive."
To Kawaguchi, he hopes the project "packages not only the couple, but their house as well, and I’m expecting to see their relationship with society through it."
Ultimately though, he said it is up to the viewer to interpret what the photos truly mean.
"I was once asked if I was expressing the suffocating reality of marriage by vacuum-sealing couples," he laughed. "I guess that this series can be interpreted more as social commentary than I thought, depending on who’s viewing it. I see it as expressing the fun of taking something silly so very seriously. I’m trying to do something silly that a child would do, just seriously."
Below are photos from his unique and powerful project:
Photographer Hal released “Pinky & Killer” (2004), “Pinky & Killer DX” (2007), “Couple Jam” (2009), “Flesh Love” (2011), and “Zatsuran” (2014) all from TOSEI-SHYA, along with 5 photo albums. He is currently seeking models both from Japan and overseas for his family series featured in this article. Check out his work at: http://www.photographerhal.com