FIVE DECADES OF ADRENALINE
In March 1967, with just $500, two cameras and only a few words of English, my father -- Joe Honda-- embarked on a journey to Europe that would define the course of his life’s work. He shipped his Toyota Corolla (which he later drove around Europe) ahead of him, hopped on a Soviet sea liner, and never looked back.
Over an international career that spanned five decades, Honda captured iconic 35mm film shots of Formula One stars such as Sir Jackie Stewart, Ayrton Senna and Niki Lauda. He became widely recognised as the chief pioneer of motorsport photography in Japan, igniting widespread interest in the sport in a country where previously it had been largely unknown.
But he never talked about the last part. For me, he was just ‘dad’.
Sometimes with those we are closest to, we miss the obvious. It was when my father started forgetting his past that I began trawling through over 300,000 negatives, slides and transparencies, and realised the deep passion he had possessed for his craft. As I slowly uncover five decades’ worth of memories, I see the rawness of his experiences in the field; his determination to push his craft in new directions. My father wanted to stretch the limits of his body and mind and pursue perfection just like the drivers he immortalised in his images. He captured them with a profound respect and understanding of what they endured.
His eclectic style also drew inspiration from sculpture, graphic design, French impressionist painting, and documentary photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson and Walker Evans.
Born in 1939 in Tokyo, my father grew up amid the ruins of WWII and overcame an impoverished upbringing to go on and study photography at the Nihon University's Department of Fine Art. He trained with celebrity and fashion photographer Yuji Hayata before going freelance. He considered becoming a war photographer but ultimately found his calling in the automotive industry. Honda launched his motorsport photography career in 1966 at the inaugural Fuji Speedway race in Japan, where he met British racing stars like Stewart, Jim Clark and Graham Hill. Fascinated by the progress and promise of the sport overseas, he broke with convention and, in 1967, travelled to Europe in search of a greater adventure.
In 1968, he joined the International Racing Press Association (IRPA) and became the regional representative for Asia. He travelled the world, covering everything from the F1 Grand Prix races and the Paris-Dakar Rallies to European motocross and NASCAR in the US, to name just a few.
He built a reputation as both an artist and a writer by exhibiting in major galleries such as the Nikon and Canon photo salons in Tokyo, and publishing widely on the developments of Formula One. Clark, Bruce McLaren, Lorenzo Bandini, Jo Sieffert, Niki Lauda, James Hunt, Alain Prost, Damon Hill, Gilles Villeneuve, Nigel Mansell and Michael Schumacher were just a handful of the exceptional drivers that Honda captured over five decades.
Motivated by a never-ending desire to search for new forms of expression, my father also experimented with cutting-edge computer, digital and graphic technologies between the 1980s to 2000s to further push the boundaries of the photographic medium. In addition, Honda has collaborated with brands such as BMW, Mitsubishi Motors, Kanebo, Shell, Hugo Boss, Asahi Shimbun and Air France.
Ultimately, my father dreamed of sharing his works with the rest of the world. But in the past decade, as interest in motorsport waned in Japan and my father’s health declined, his work fell into obscurity. Until now.
This website and the ‘Joe Honda initiative’ is an effort by my mother, my friends, and I to show the world my father’s rediscovered works, to grant him the global recognition he so deserves, and attain the support needed to conserve his historic images and legacy.
We hope that his life-long passion and dedication to documenting the human, cultural and technological stories at the centre of a fast-evolving motorsport industry will touch the lives of others.
Warmest regards from Emiko Jozuka, Joe Honda’s daughter, and friends.