Hiroki Kobayashi

As a Japanese photographer who has lived in Crown Heights for six years, do you feel like you are a part of the community, or an outsider, or both? Has making your neighborhood your subject matter affected this perspective?

I definitely feel like I am a part of the community now. The neighbors who have lived their whole lives in this neighborhood are very welcoming and are open to me being here. Through working on projects, I met a lot of neighbors and we have became friends

I often feel like I am living in a small village in New York, which I never imagined to happen. I think it’s such a wonderful thing to experience, and I appreciate it very much. At the same time, of course, I can’t be a native in this community because I come from a different culture. I think it gives me a unique point of view and position.

Why The Slave Theater?

Since I moved into this community I noticed that it’s changing very quickly. The gentrification naturally became a main interest and is reflected in my projects. I think the history and current story of The Slave Theater tells a lot about this neighborhood very clearly and symbolically. I was really surprised that it exists, and at the same time, not too many people care about the fortune of this incredibly beautiful building and its cultural heritage.

The first time I visited The Slave Theater, I met Hardy Clarence, who was a caretaker of the building. He was so passionate in sharing stories about the theater and its founder, Judge Phillips. He dreamed about reopening the theater again someday, and keeping it in the hands of this community. Unfortunately, the theater totally closed in February 2012, and Hardy Clarence isn’t there anymore.

Hiroki Kobayashi, 2010: The Slave Theater
Hiroki Kobayashi, 2010: Hardy Clarence, former caretaker of The Slave Theater

Has immersing yourself in the neighborhoods you are working with affected your approach to photography? Is this something you will continue when you move back to Japan?

Photography is an important tool to understand subjects for me. The simple reason I started these projects in Brooklyn is because I am here. I will continue shooting wherever I will be in the future. I always find the similarities between human beings and places in different locations. I believe those similarities are the important things. I try to reveal the truth which exists in them, and share it through my photography.


Hiroki Kobayashi is a Brooklyn-based photographer originally from Hiroshima, Japan. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in Economics from Kokugakuin University, Tokyo. Kobayashi has produced varied bodies of work focusing on people and places in Brooklyn. He has had recent solo exhibitions of his images at FiveMyles Gallery and the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts; and a group exhibition at Skylight Gallery, Brooklyn.

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