This path was created by Emily Chapman.  The last update was by David Ambaras.

Bodies and Structures 2.0: Deep-Mapping Modern East Asian History

Conclusion: Absence, Image and Place in the Yajima Family Albums

The three Yajima family photo albums were ostensibly a private record, but the photograph album was and is a curated narrative made to be consumed by a wider group. As Isao took most of the pictures outside the home, the albums brought the experiences of outside back into the home as artefacts posed for, printed, and kept safe. As Elizabeth Edwards writes, “albums structure time and place, retemporalize and guide narratives,” and they are an “active element in the replaying of those histories” (Edwards 2006, 34). For amateur photographers in postwar Japan, the social practice of taking and collating photos of your family was also intensely gendered. Men were the public presence of the happy snapper, but when the camera was turned inward towards the house and home, it was mothers who were encouraged by manufacturers and how–to discourses to turn their daily life into something public and consumable while productively filling the little free time they had. For fathers, or those fabled as “Sunday photographers,” when out and about, the photographic act turned the family into a public spectacle that created an extended public frame in which men were visible as fathers, even if invisible in the final private prints. Taking the photographs outside the home was integral to this public performance of fathering and makes some of the time Isao spent as "father," visible, while simultaneously reinforcing the home as a place from which he was absent.

Through photographs, and the albums which weave them into narratives, viewers of the Yajima photographs glimpse how Isao—husband, father, driver, and breadwinner—wanted an, imagined or known, audience to see his family. How-to discourses reminded happy snappers that assembling an album was in the service of future nostalgia where, in a moment of family togetherness, old photos could be looked at, talked about, and family bonds reinforced. It is not possible to know if or how often the Yajimas looked back at their albums, but the removal of images and signs of wear suggest the albums did come off the shelves from time to time and extended the photographic moment, which for fathers like Isao was one of the ways he spent time with his growing children. Yet, at some point the Yajima photos were sold, thrown away, misplaced, or forgotten about. This is at odds with the evidence of care and delight read in the images, their arrangements, and preservation. Beyond the temptation to service sentiment, what is most interesting is that the images were not destroyed, but repurposed as something to buy. Edwards talks briefly on how the destruction of images “points to a breakdown or a secession of social relations,” which suggests that keeping the Yajima albums largely intact, and trading them for money or freed-up-space, were acts which preserved the images themselves, and the shadows of the social relations that surrounded both their creation and their guardianship (Edwards 2006, 36). The capacity for material images to allow access to these networks of social relations is at the centre of how the Yajima photographs work as a way to historicise this father’s place in and outside the home, as well as enable us to witness his visual voice.

It was in this voice that Isao built his family aesthetic, which included his own personal style of posing, but also, as the albums show, a growing sense of what mattered enough to photograph, develop, save, and stick. Isao guided his camera and arranged his subjects across the spaces of home and work, occasionally catching his movement in between these spaces and his roles. In turn, the camera worked as a way to manage and reconcile his various selves through these spaces.

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