This annotation was created by Emily Chapman.  The last update was by Kate McDonald.

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

"Mama no kamera kyōshitsu"

In July 1962, the magazine Yoiko printed the first segment in a new series, “mama no kamera kyōshitsu” (mothers’ camera classroom). The famous photographer Yoshioka Senzō (1916–2005) penned the early instalments. He reassured tentative mothers that “even if it is out of focus, it doesn’t matter” (pinboke de mo kamawanai). Yoshioka’s manifesto, outlined in this first instalment, centred on building mothers’ confidence and competence. The stated motivation for mothers to pick up the family camera was not personal interest, but the spectre of an imagined future moment of sitting around the family album.

Reading with Yoshioka’s treatise of technical improvement, the column outlined the ways in which better photos could make a better mother—closer, more present, and more observant. Like most family photos, this self-improvement was also filtered through a male gaze, first that of Yoshioka, and later in the series, other professional male photographers. For Yoshioka, a better picture was not stage-directed, with children corralled into department store studios or corners of parks and gardens to get the perfect pose, instead it was an everyday affair and a constant awareness of possible photographic moments. Eager to dispel any anxiety over having to always be camera-ready, Yoshioka explained, in light but nonetheless technical language, how cameras are easier than ever to use. These images, he argued, enter the child’s world: “your children’s world is not just outside the home, but inside as well. Make-believe with dolls, parties, splashing around with water and so on are your children’s oasis.” Intentional or otherwise, Yoshioka’s argument was to let the camera in to the very private moments of toddler tantrums, afternoon naps, and free–form play in order to expand the concept of which domestic spaces should be visible and, as Yoshioka’s list of photographable activities shows, to keep women’s photography within the walls of the home, thus making it into an act of childcare and housework.

Yoshioka also asked readers to send in their images against which he positioned himself as the classroom teacher. Each month he, and eventually other well-known, male photographers, would judge the submissions and then select a final few which would be printed and perhaps critiqued, with instructions for improvement. The images sent in by readers were compared to each other, as well as to the imagined content of families’ albums. For example, to encourage readers to try close-ups in August 1962, Yoshioka instructed them to first “look at the photos you’ve taken to date in your albums. Probably you’ll find there are very few close-ups.” He suggests that good moments for catching a close-up he suggests are while your children are watching cartoons on television, while they are eating a sweet treat, while they are reading you (mother) a book, and while they are playing with their friends. Although outwardly simply guiding the taking of better family photographs, Yoshioka and his peers were engaged in the reimagining of everyday family life as a never-ending flow of potential—and potentially lost—photographic moments.

Over the series’ run, Yoshioka and his peers campaigned for a shift from valuing the perfect setting, to using the camera without your subjects’ knowledge. The familiar refrain was that children should be the main characters (kodomo san wo shūyaku shite) in the images. In the short-term, this involved getting more engrossed in your child’s world when seeking to capture their world-view (and therefore sacrificing your own). The reward for mothers and others was that, years later, when you look at these images in the albums, your memories will be all the richer for having captured the moment and the vitality (iki iki) of your child.

Yoshioka’s snap evangelism, using the family photograph as its call to arms, dovetailed with manufacturers’ efforts to increase adult women’s camera ownership. The case for more and better photos was not that mothers would find pleasure in photography, but that they were rendering their family a service. Without mothers, as well as fathers, picking up the camera, vital elements of the family record (kiroku) would be lost. The mass predilection for posed photos was already ignoring what really mattered—the act and activity (iki iki) of family life and childhood. “Use a camera like any other type of electrical appliance in your life” encouraged Yoshioka in his attempt normalise camera ownership and use. Lurking within Yoshioka’s association of the camera with domestic appliances was the concept of a newly formalised kind of domestic work—the work of memory keeping. This also implied a more sinister requirement, to account for one’s time.

The attempt to insert the camera into the category of domestic appliance was made on multiple fronts. In 1959, seasoning giant Ajinomoto included savings stamps on four of its popular products which, if collected in the hundreds, could be put towards a special something for mothers or children. Listed under the “prizes” for mothers were a television set, a refrigerator, an electric washing machine, and a Canon camera. For shoppers familiar with the supposed “three treasures” of a successful middle–class life (a television, refrigerator, and washing machine) the message was clear, you also needed a camera. This was a stark contrast to the prevailing masculine discourses of hobby photography which Kerry Ross has documented, where the camera was something lingered over, lavished with expense, and used carefully (Ross 2015).

Source: Yoshioka, Senzō. “Mama No Kamera Kyōshitsu (1): Pinboke De Mo Kamawanai.” Yoiko, July 1962, 74-75.

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