interviewed by henrietta garnham
HITOMI & JAVI
SPAIN > CHINA
ROAM: What do you do and where do you live?
JAVI: We are photographers. Besides my personal work, I work with many clients and do their product shots. It’s mainly fashion essentially handbags, watches and other accessories. It’s very repetitive and technical. Fashion photography in Guangzhou is where the money is.
Where do you come from?
J: I come from San Sebastian [in Spain].
HITOMI: I was born and brought up in Guangzhou, China.
If you don’t mind me asking, how did you both meet?
J: We met in a bar! I came here on holiday five years ago with a Canadian friend who had a friend, who had a friend, who knew Hitomi. I am lucky she spoke a bit of English! Actually, after five years I still find it difficult to have a fluent conversation with a Chinese person.
I’m guessing your plans changed when you met Hitomi!
J: Yes. I chose to stay in Guangzhou and I started working straight away. It takes time to settle. I remember I didn’t have Internet when I moved in to my first flat. It was very difficult. I didn’t know a word of Cantonese. When I had to eat, I went to the first café around the corner but of course I had no idea what was on the menu. I always went for the first meal on the list and hoped it was something I could eat!
How long have you been working in China?
J: Almost 5 years. I started working as a music and event photographer in Europe.
Where do you work? Do you have a studio?
J: We had a studio for a couple of years. It’s very difficult to buy propriety here. We had no idea how it worked at the time so we paid more than we should have. We rent out places now, depending on where our clients are based. We do a lot of location shoots so most of the time we don’t need a studio.
Do you have clients on a regular basis or do you have to search for them?
J: It takes a while to get clients that trust your work. Chinese people are perfectionists. By now, I know my clients and their expectations so it’s easier. In China, the photographer is the core of the job. We are in charge of the art direction, of everything. We get the mood boards but we want to inspire them with new ideas.
J: Are you finding it easy to take photos here?
ROAM: To be honest, it’s very difficult. They don’t like the camera at all. I had a person tell me off for taking a photo of her fruit stand!
J: Indeed, It’s very difficult to use a camera in China. They see you coming a mile away. I have a funny story. I was working on a film project with a friend a few years ago. We had a Hasselblad and we're filming in the street of Guangzhou. The camera was nothing big and we had minimal equipment. I started filming my friend standing on a pavement and suddenly we hear a person running down the building opposite the road. A very angry man came out and said “Don’t touch my bike!”. His bike happened to be a few meters away from where we were filming.
Whereabouts do you shoot?
J: It depends on the client. We do travel around the country very often. As you know China is massive so it takes up a lot of time and it’s very tiring.
What projects are you working on at the moment?
J: I am in the process of doing a commercial video for a restaurant.
H: I have a lot of editing to do. We worked on a model competition a few days ago. I did the photography and Javi did the filming.
Do you usually work together or do you prefer working independently?
J: We tend to work together, it’s fine and easy. Hitomi helps me a lot with the language barrier!
When did you realise you wanted to become a photographer?
H: When I met Javi. I originally studied fine arts and fashion design.
J: Believe it or not, I shifted from psychology to photography. I learnt photography through the internet and I did a workshop with a very experienced photographer. He taught me a lot. There are only guidelines in photography. After, it all comes down to instinct and creativity.
H: Chinese people start working very young. There is a lot of pressure on earning money here. I am 25 and have been working in fashion and arts since 17 probably.
What do you do in your free time?
J: Post-production. Being freelance, it’s difficult to define what free time is! When you enjoy what you do, you don’t differentiate work and leisure.
What is your favourite item in your studio?
H and J: Our cat.
Javi, do you go back home often?
J: No. But I never miss Christmas at home. Christmas is very different here.
What do you miss the most back home?
J: The meat. Yeah, definitely the food. I should also say family. I have another story. During a shoot here in China, I was craving lettuce. I wanted a simple salad for lunch. I therefore walk into a café and ask for salad. At first, the server had no idea what I was on about. Then he asked me: “Would you like me to heat the salad?” I couldn’t believe it. In China, it’s very rare to have raw food. If any.
What don’t you miss?
J: Spanish people! Here, people are so much more dynamic. Everybody works and no one complains about it.
If you had to move from Guangzhou where would you choose to go?
J and H: New York. No hesitation there.
What are you up to later on today?
J: I have an important meeting at 7pm with a client for their product shots.
What will your day look like at 70?
J: I will savour a good cup of coffee in the morning. I will definitely still be working but with a team. They will carry the equipment!
H: I won’t be working. I will be travelling!
Please go and check out Hitomi & Javi's work: www.itrspace.com