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10.03.2015

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Kiên Hoàng Lê travelled to Japan to complete his final dissertation for his studies of photojournalism and documentary photography. He searched for the perfect theme for five months before taking part in a workshop with Magnum photographer Antoine d’Agata. It was then that he accidentally discovered a little bar.
The Suna no Shiro bar lies hidden in the red-light and pleasure district of Tokyo, and is a meeting place for eccentrics, artists and outsiders. The atmosphere in the bar immediately captivated Kiên Hoàng Lê, and the workshop with Antoine d’Agata strengthened his conviction that he should follow his gut feeling when taking photographs. As a result, he put aside his medium format camera, and set about capturing the scene at the bar using a Leica M9 and a flash.
His graduation project has now been published as a photo book. For further information visit www.hoangle.de.


Suna No Shiro was your graduation project. Where did the idea come from?

From October 2014, I spent six months in Japan thanks to a student grant. Having travelled through almost the entire country, in my last month I ended up in Tokyo. One evening, I met film maker Travis Klose at the Kodoji – known as the Photographers’ Bar. He told me he had an exhibition showing at the Suna no Shiro Bar. So we went over there, and didn’t resurface until the next day – in Tokyo, there is no public transport during the night. Once I'd returned to Germany, it soon dawned on me that I had been to a very special place. From there, it was just a small step to making it my graduation project.



What makes this bar so special? How does it differ from the rest of Tokyo?

The Suna is hidden in a side alley, and is located on the second and third floor. It’s not something a tourist would stumble across – only those ‘in the know’ will ever find it. The bar mostly attracts artists, musicians, crossdressers and transgenders – basically, people who live on the edges of society. I was incredibly drawn to the liberal atmosphere and sense of excess. There seemed to be no limits or limitations. In contrast to the very obliging and polite manner of the Japanese, the behaviour inside the Suna was openly coarse.


It is clear from your pictures that you are amidst the action. As a photographer, was it difficult to gain the acceptance of the other guests?

To begin with I didn’t go to the Suna as a photographer, but simply because I felt comfortable with the people there and I was out to have a good time. Only after a while did I come to realise that it would be great to capture my experience. I didn’t take these pictures from the vantage point of an outsider, but as part of a partying group. I adjusted my style of working to the situation, because this was no longer about aesthetics and compositions, but all about a specific moment with these people. Essentially, I took the kinds of photographs I wanted to show to my friends in the bar – the crazier the pictures, the more they loved them.


Life at the Suna no Shiro is far removed from everyday reality. Would you actually have coped with staying there longer, without suffering lasting consequences?

I returned to Tokyo in order to complete my graduation project, spending another two months sleeping during the day and partying at night. Two months of celebration, drinking and intoxication have definitely left their mark. Both physically and mentally, I reached my limits – and crossed them a few times. I wouldn’t have been able to keep it up long-term. My perception of the world around me had already noticeably changed. But I wouldn’t miss my time there for the world, and I’ll definitely visit my friends at the Suna next time I'm in Tokyo.
Kiên Hoàng Lê – Suna No Shiro
Kiên Hoàng Lê – Suna No Shiro
© Kiên Hoàng Lê
© Kiên Hoàng Lê
© Kiên Hoàng Lê
© Kiên Hoàng Lê
© Kiên Hoàng Lê
© Kiên Hoàng Lê
© Kiên Hoàng Lê
Kiên Hoàng Lê – Suna No Shiro

Kiên Hoàng Lê

Kiên Hoàng Lê was born in Hanoi, Vietnam, and grew up in Bogensee close to Berlin. He has been working as a freelance photographer since 2009. In 2012 he was a photographer for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. In 2013 he got his BA in Advance Visual Storytelling at the Danish School of Media and Journalism. Kiên received a grant which he used to do his research in Japan, and then completed his studies of photojournalism and documentary photography in Hanover. Kiên Hoàng Lê lives in Berlin and is represented by the FOCUS Agency.

www.hoangle.de
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