The images that make up the Yajima albums were nearly all taken outside the home, on its threshold or at a distance. The map below shows the geographic spread of Isao's movement across Album 1. It is included here to emphasise the huge debt of bodily movement which underpins the static materiality of the final album.
Clicking on each map pin will show a photo twinned with each place. This might be the only photo taken there such as the newlywed portrait that begins this module, or part of a series such as the day Isao and Haruki went to Meiji Gaien.
Compare with Album 2 | Album 3
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- 1 media/Album 1.jpeg 2020-10-02T06:32:22-04:00 Emily Chapman 9aa15229f49d5b5afe6489db95cf941cf40d67a5 Album 1: 1941 - 56 Emily Chapman 9 splash 43846 2020-12-11T06:42:16-05:00 Emily Chapman 9aa15229f49d5b5afe6489db95cf941cf40d67a5
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Making myself: Yajima Isao as subject
How Isao behaved when he was in front of the camera
We know that Isao is largely behind the camera when his young family is in the frame in the course of Album 1. However, in the full body of photographs which make up Album 1, Isao still had plenty of room to experiment with and refine his personal style of pose. As he moved more concretely behind the camera, those images in which he featured or was the focus begin to demonstrate a particular style of self-presentation that we can call “disengazed.” With the exception of formal group photographs or portraits, Isao largely avoided the “eye” of the camera. Alongside caption tone and word choice, it is this refusal to surrender to the subject-making of his own camera which marks Isao out as the primary photo taker of the Yajima albums, and the most likely creator.
So what did this disengazed pose involve? Largely it affected Isao when he was taking self-portraits. In these cases he often retreated alone to the garden and used the timer. He rarely looked directly at the camera, thus differentiating these self-styled photographs from the style of studio pose he was used to. Instead, he developed a style of pose where he looked at a point beyond the camera, usually to his right. This reminds viewers, one of whom was of course Isao, that there is much the camera cannot see. It is also possible that Isao’s middle-distance stare was the result of his own discomfort as a photographic subject and he found himself able to dislodge this awkwardness by not looking directly at the camera.
Why does it matter how Isao presented himself in his photographs? It matters because Isao's visual behaviours of gaze and crop demonstrate that he was keenly aware of the transformation work the camera did in making a version of someone, rather than a replica. He consciously used the camera, final prints and album format to produce a particular and particularly cohesive version of his many selves: dentist, father, partner, traveller and empowered consumer. His goal in the albums was not–it seems–documentation, but self-elevation to the status of a desirable and interesting subject.
Desire seems to have been immensely important to the Isao that is made visible through these albums. This Isao not only wanted to look good himself, but appears to have delighted in Eiko as she posed for him. This desire is alluded to on the last page of Album 1 in a scrapbook style collation of portrait photos of Eiko taken before she married Isao:
This page displays Eiko's visual life before Isao and children. It may also display her involvement in the album's construction. If so, she would have been doing what amateur photography discourse suggested women could, and should, do to pull their weight in the labour of photographing the family. As one guide, Twelve Months of Family Photographs (Masuda 1953), suggested, since fathers were often unwilling to make albums, and given they had already taken the photos in their role as otōsan kameraman, “wouldn’t it be good if this task was something mother took charge of?” As Kerry Ross has shown in her survey of early twentieth century how-to literature, in the hopes of transforming photography from the father’s great escape to a family pursuit, various elements of the photographic process were apportioned to other family members. This was, as Ross argues, a strategy to soothe new tensions whereby photography, as a largely solitary pursuit, threatened how time and space were used at home (Ross 2015 p.66). Then again, a less enticing and more practical explanation might also be behind this lone page; with the album housing so many of Isao's pre-parenthood photographs, perhaps on sorting through boxes one day, Isao or Eiko discovered these old portraits and quite practically decided that the album was a good place to store them. Whether practical or devotional we will never know. However, what is affirmed by this page of portraits is that Eiko's likeness and her visual history was as much a part of this album project as was Isao's.
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Absence and image
Thinking with the family photograph to consider the meeting points of absence, presence and image
Look at the photograph above. When an unknown photographer took this photograph of a moderately wealthy family in his studio in northeastern Japan’s Tōhoku region, the father was not there. The studio, although designed to be invisible, is revealed to viewers upon closer inspection; notice the mock-grand door frame behind the group and the painted outline of a door behind the partly pulled curtain. One business day, a professional photographer took this photograph of the assembled family group—six children, their grandmother or maid, and a young woman who was likely the mother of one, some, or all of the children. However, using a technique known as kessei waku or “frame of absence,” the photographer materialised the absent patriarch. The resulting effect is that father seems to float and preside over the family image, which is as comical as it is indicative of the aesthetic malleability of both the photographic moment and the social purpose of the image. In the case of this unknown family, the floating father reinforces the purpose of the family photograph as an exercise designed to display all members. It also suggests that the photograph offered a way to be present while absent echoing the routine Isao was exercising in his photographs of Eiko and the children as he began to step behind the camera.
The potential of the family photograph as a source and the reason it is worth “thinking with” (Darnton 1984) when we think about the family in Japan, is because it pushes us to talk differently about men's absence in postwar Japan as well as the appearances of absence in our archives. Perhaps it is better to say it pushes us to talk more widely about men's movement in and around their family particularly in questioning the gendered power play behind who or what is “made visible” in the historic record—both personal and public (Thomas 2008). The artificiality of the floating figurehead while a practical solution to absence and producing comic effect, prompts a greater sensitivity on the visual charade of completeness particularly at work in group photos. What happens, however, if one person has to take the photograph? In Album 1 there is a single image which emphasises not only that Isao and his family's expectation that he is the visual labourer behind their photographic record, but also that this is a labour which is gendered as male. The story of that photograph follows the image on the left.
On 3 January 1960, the sun was shining. It was the New Year holiday and Isao, Eiko, and Kazu were visiting the hot spring resort of Izu with their fond friends, regular travel companions, and ballroom dancers, the Iwabuchis. Before setting off for a day’s sightseeing, the two families stood in front of their parked cars, huddled together, and smiled for the camera. Unfamiliar to the Yajimas, they would pose for two photographers before setting off that morning. Iwabuchi Sensei took the first photograph. Before he clicked the shutter, the group organised into two clusters of three bodies. As Iwabuchi Sensei looked through the viewfinder, on the left was the Yajima family; Eiko stood on edge of the group, her arm touching Isao’s, and Isao put his arm around Kazu’s shoulders, pulling him closer and disturbing the centre-line of the image. To the right, Mrs Iwabuchi stood upright, and her two young children stood close together and stared ahead. Iwabuchi Sensei took the photograph, then Isao uncurled his arm from Kazu and walked over to take the camera and took the second photograph. This time, as Iwabuchi Sensei returned from behind the camera, the group split into men and women to retain the balance of two clusters of three bodies.
Isao went on to devote three pages of Album 1 to this day trip, and he chose to start the sequence with these two images. At first glance, the narrative statement these two photos make appears clear—this was taken at the outset, before the day’s trip, these are the people who were there, and you can expect to see all or some of them in the photos that follow. However, looking at the space between the photos—the material, papery space on the album page—the waiting between the photos becomes manifest through Iwabuchi Sensei and Isao seeming to travel across the images. It is affirming to the wider argument of this module that only the fathers take the photographs but more emphatic is the sense that the province and privilege of movement is one monopolised as male. So, while the absent hardworking father might scaffold discourses of postwar masculinity and fathering in Japan, this is twinned with a largely invisible pulse of constant and free movement (DasGupta 2012).
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Leisure, pleasure and showing off
Travel snaps and the Yajima's changing relationship with movement and image
Japan Travel Bureau
Isao travelled a lot. Accompanied by family and friends he travelled across Tokyo and Japan by bus, train, and eventually using in his own car. Domestic travel was the space through which Isao claimed—and used the albums to visually articulate—his family’s place in Japan’s postwar middle class. It was also the main forging ground for his photographs. This was partly practical; when travelling he had the camera on his body and much more time to take photos. It was also, as it was for the tens of thousands of fellow camera–wielding domestic tourists, an instrumental part of what Anne McClintock describes as the “theatrical performance of leisure”(McClintock 1995, 162).
Album 2 is all about the spectacle of free time that played out in this classed and coded “theatre.” Look at the image to the left. As a spectacle itself, this volume’s cover is by far the most ostentatious in design. Velveteen and opulent, it hints at wealth, humour, and fittingly for the contents, carries embroidered overtones of transport and journey with the approaching ship and greeting penguin. The real-life mobility of the Yajima family seen in the mapping pages across this module (Mapping Album 1 | Mapping Album 2 | Mapping Album 3) did not just hint at wealth, it shouted it. Friends, neighbours, and family back home were, however, out of earshot, so the photograph, alongside inevitable souvenirs and gifts, was therefore needed as proof of this classed pursuit. It is no surprise then, that aside from the names of family and friends, the word which appears the most in captions across all volumes is tabi, or “trip” and across the life–span of this album, 1959-1961, Isao used photographs to catalogue seventeen separate trips.
Since its invention in 1839, photography and the photograph have developed as forces explaining and accounting for time. Travel, although appearing to all the senses as a suspension of time, was laden with a constellation of institutions which gave meaning to the way free time was spent and dispensed. The family, local government, and the Japan Travel Bureau were just some of these institutions at work, while amateur photography acted as a foil for preserving the pretence of private, rather than institutionally-sponsored, leisure (Leheney 2000).
Let’s look again at the image with which this module started in which two “private” photographic moments are happening at once–Isao’s and the family behind him. The privacy of this moment is fictitious, but the existence of a final owned print transforms what was a public moment into something material and intimate. The public/private blur of the travel photograph means that scenes ordinarily banished from family snaps - such as eating and shopping - are permitted entry while not transgressing the spatial code Isao had established for photographs near home. When travelling, the family is snapped slouching at a kitchen table, Eiko is pictured shopping, proudly displaying her purchase for the camera and Isao appears slurping noodles at a standing noodle bar during a trip away with colleagues. When travelling, the Yajimas—like all tourists—were not just tourists in new places, but tourists in their own lives, and the photographs survives as companions to these novelties. The photograph was also the proof that the Yajima family had successfully travelled from their urban home to “the wild” and back again—albeit a heavily managed and well–catered wild. This success was multi–layered. First, it was a testament to financial success and the attainment of a high-standard of living—in this case, the success of Isao’s Dental Practice. Second, it heralded the success of the Japanese countryside as a tourist destination.
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- 1 media/The newlyweds pose outside the Atami Ocean Hotel 1 January 1941_thumb.jpg 2020-09-22T08:32:41-04:00 Newlyweds at the Atami Ocean Hotel 8 1 January 1941 media/The newlyweds pose outside the Atami Ocean Hotel 1 January 1941.jpg plain 2021-08-09T15:34:23-04:00 35.10784, 139.08638 Atami Private collection 01/01/1941 Copyright undetermined. If you are the rights holder, please contact bodiesandstructures [at] gmail.com. Emily Chapman EBC-0026
- 1 media/Around Gaien c.1948_thumb.jpg 2020-01-06T16:32:44-05:00 Around Gaien 6 Isao took Haruki and his camera for a day out in Tokyo, 1948 media/Around Gaien c.1948.jpg plain 2021-08-09T16:16:05-04:00 35.67723, 139.71711 Private Collection 1948 Copyright undetermined. If you are the rights holder, please contact us at bodiesandstructures [at] gmail.com. Emily Chapman EBC-0020