In the world of photography, the idea of collectives is not new: Magnum Photos set the standard nearly 70 years ago and countless other efforts have cropped up in the intervening decades. But what is new, or at least has changed dramatically in the past decade, is the ease and speed at which groups can form and collaborate. Combine this fact with street photographers’ wide-ranging embrace of social media, and we are witnessing an explosion of collectives that bring together like-minded street shooters from around the world and then rapidly disseminate their work across digital networks.

Week by week, over the course of the LensCulture Street Photography Awards, we will be featuring inspiring street photography collectives from across the globe. First up: Hikari Creative. Founded in 2014 by an unlikely (but somehow perfectly suited) group of photographers from Iran, Japan, Italy and America, Hikari is an excellent example of a contemporary, social media-first collective.

LC: What were the origins of Hikari—what first brought you together, what’s kept you together as time has gone on?

HC: Hikari Creative was the brainchild of Iranian photographer Ako Salemi, who first asked the Japanese-born, NYC-based Q. Sakamaki to collaborate with him. Together, they agreed that their new collective would use Instagram to explore a new style of photography: a photography that would utilize a strong artistic sensibility and move beyond traditional photojournalism to blend fine art and photo-documentary traditions.

Before the public launch of the yet-to-be-named collective, Marina Sersale and Eric Mencher were added. None of the four original members had ever met, but they each knew of and had a high respect for the others’ work. This shared level of trust was critical in bringing the group together to ultimately create Hikari Creative.

Over time, through email that flowed regularly across multiple continents, we talked about our vision and goals. We chose the name “Hikari Creative” because “hikari” means light in Japanese but is also a metaphor for hope. Perhaps our slogan summarizes it best: “We are brought together by photography to affirm art as essential to our lives.” That has been our guiding principle since our launch in November 2014.

Although we had (and still have) very distinctive styles in our own photography, there are strong connections that have helped hold us together. Initially it was almost a leap of faith that we would be in concert with not only the work that we each posted, but also with each other. Over time, we have found that there exists a consistent, yet nonetheless varied and diverse vision that enables us to present a cohesive gallery.

About one year after launch, photojournalist Adriana Zehbrauskas was asked to join our small group. Her eye adds another strong dimension to our quest to explore photography and speaks to our continuing vitality.

LC: Collectives seem to be a very structure for street photographers, in particular. Why do you think that’s the case?

HC: There may be one very simple answer: street photography is—by its nature—a shared energy. It is a communal endeavor that lends itself to a collective, sharing spirit. It brings people together in ways that other kinds of photography might not. Street photography also reads well on Instagram and has thus grown steadily as an important part of the Instagram experience.

LC: What are a few of the successes that you have seen the collective achieve? Moments when you felt that the group had done something that would have been difficult for the individuals to accomplish alone…

HC: We have had a number of very significant accomplishments. First was the Instagram launch itself: this attracted an enormous amount of attention and we quickly built a reputation for posting only images of the highest quality. We strive for images that continually challenge the visual sensibilities of our followers. This was followed by a LensCulture Instagram takeover last summer. Thinking about what we would collectively post and proposing the idea of a daily theme resulted in extraordinarily positive feedback throughout the week and an affirmation of the work we were doing.

Another big milestone was our group exhibition in Tehran, Iran, in November 2015. Combined with the exhibition catalog and workshops, the gallery show was a big success.

Finally, we added Adriana this year, marking a renewed level of commitment and growth to our group. None of these successes could have been achieved without a collective effort. Every time we put our minds together we become even more innovative and ground-breaking, searching for that delicate photographic balance between being unique yet accessible.

LC: If a new group were interested in starting a collective, what advice would you have for them? Challenges to watch out for; things you wish you had known at the beginning?

HC: First and foremost: have a strong vision. Think hard about what you hope to accomplish. Set goals. Find a good balance in your membership. Members who can successfully work together yet who can also contribute their own unique ideas. Work hard. Be dedicated.

As for Hikari Creative, we have definitely taken one day at a time. We always keep our motto and name in mind. In the end, it’s about the art; when we remember that, there is no limit to what we feel can be accomplished.

—Hikari Creative, interviewed by Alexander Strecker

Editors’ Note: You can find the work of Hikari Creative on their website or their vibrant Instagram feed. You can also follow the individual photographer’s on their separate (but equally inspiring!) accounts.

Marina Sersale
Q. Sakamaki
Ako Salemi
Eric Mencher
Adriana Zehbrauskas