‘Gazing into the World’, the Innocence of Youth

In this series, Hisaji Hara and Natsumi Hayashi photograph adolescent girls who have been spared the gendered norms of society.


WordsHenri Robert

‘Playing Twins (Shima & Mao)’ from the series ‘Gazing Into the World’

‘Innocence, like that of the bodhisattvas (in Buddhism, a bodhisattva is any person who is on the path towards Buddhahood) that the girls embody: what do we, as adults, have to learn from it?’ is the central question in Hisaji Hara and Natsumi Hayashi‘s series, Gazing Into the World, still ongoing in 2022.

Hisaji Hara (born in Tokyo in 1964) and Natsumi Hayashi (born in Saitama Prefecture in 1982) have worked together since 2013. Based in Beppu, they left Tokyo in 2014, following the earthquake of 2011. Having graduated from Musashino Art University, Hisaji Hara moved to the United States in 1993 before returning to Japan in 2001. In 2009, his series After Balthus (A Photographic Portrayal of the Paintings of Balthus) was met with critical acclaim. Natsumi Hayashi is a graduate of Rikkyo university; in 2011 she gained recognition for her series of self-portraits, entitled Today’s Levitation.


Innocence and altruism

In 2015, the duo began Gazing Into the World by producing images of 20 girls from the island of Kyushu where the artists live. The objective was to capture the way that the innocence of youth, notably among girls in the region, evaporates over the years. How might a certain loss of altruism and solidarity be explained in a non-normative or gendered way?

In order to contrast with the regular stereotypes linked to youth, Hisaji Hara and Natsumi Hayashi have created a series within a series. The girls are photographed multiple times, as if they were twins or triplets. They be can seen in multiple scenarios, with various postures and attitudes, allowing the viewer to interpret the poses and the interplay between subjects. The anonymous models have no brief; their backdrop the city of Beppu, they are free to chose the staging of the images as well as their outfits. ‘They curtail their own tendencies toward insolence, are sympathetic to the weak, despise lies and deceptions, and show affection for all without prejudice,’ explained the artists in a presentation of the series at the Tokyo Photographic Art Museum in 2020.


An unavoidable shift?

When young girls play with a gun, is it a game without any ulterior motive for violence, or the signal for a moment when innocence leaves them? The models’ ambiguous gazes leave the public free to interpret. Are they consciously significant, are they marked with the intention to provoke a particular feeling? Can we, once the reality of the world is revealed to us, regain this state of innocence? This series of questions is left wide open.

Speaking at the Tokyo Photographic Art Museum, the artists explain, ‘One thing that struck us while photographing the girls was the wonderful harmonies between model and scenery. We felt that the subjects, the girls, gave off a dazzling glow when allowed to shine in their natural state in urban and natural environments. This is why most of the prints exhibited here bring together girls and landscapes.’ The series is thus a multifaceted work that can be observed either in a detached manner, or be used to open up a broader reflection on youth and the consequences of the route towards adulthood. 

Gazing Into the World is the perfect synthesis of the respective practices of the two artists; Natsumi Hayashi, who works solo under the pseudonym yowayowa (which might be translated as weak or fragile), often produces portraits of herself levitating, while Hisaji Hara’s previous work on Balthus responds to this question of youth.


Gazing Into The World (2020), is a photo series by Hisaji Hara and Natsumi Hayashi and can be found on Facebook.

‘PLAYING TWINS (nico & io)’ from the series ‘GAZING INTO THE WORLD’

‘PLAYING TWINS (Beni & Kon)’ from the series ‘GAZING INTO THE WORLD’

‘PLAYING TWINS (Neiro & Sora)’ from the series ‘GAZING INTO THE WORLD’

‘PLAYING TWINS (Shima & Mao)’ from the series ‘GAZING INTO THE WORLD’



‘PLAYING TWINS (Neiro & Sora)’ from the series ‘GAZING INTO THE WORLD’