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

One family’s photographs (1941-1966)

This module begins in January 1941 when a photograph was taken. It is in this image we are introduced to Yajima Isao and his new bride, Eiko. They are sitting in the grounds of what was likely their honeymoon hotel, the Atami Ocean Hotel (Atami Taiyo Hoteru). The pair sit in full view of the grand entrance, Eiko was, or was soon to be, pregnant with their first child and . In the background another photograph is taking place. One man sits, camera in hand while another watches the child-subject of the photograph attempt to climb the steps of a slide. . Isao almost certainly took this picture himself. Having chosen a suitable spot, with favourable lighting and the backdrop of the hotel’s grand entrance, he probably mounted the camera on its tripod, set the timer, and then ran back to his seat. In their family life, Eiko would soon give birth to their first child, Haruki. In their visual life, Isao was soon to assume the new role of father-photographer (otosan kameraman) and make a shift in physical and emotional geography to a place behind the camera.

This image is the foundation stone for the this module. It gives us a date, a place and a face and it begins our story that orbits around Yajima Isao. Born in 1913, Isao was a proud dentist, regular smoker, amateur golfer, keen traveller, car enthusiast, and occasional dancer. Starting in the 1940s and coinciding with the start of his own family, he began work on the first of three photograph albums. Over the next sixteen years, he assembled hundreds of photographs across the albums. He took most of the photos himself and narrated them with occasional and succinct captions. While on first reading the crudest defining category of his images seem to be whether he is in them or not, this is more interesting that it might first appear. Isao is often absent from the photographs, especially those of his family, because he is taking the photograph. Perhaps his wife and children were not avid, interested or able photographers, but within a historical context where men’s absence from the home (and presence at work) is widely accepted to have been expected Isao’s images engage connect with wider scholarly and cultural narrative – which still plays out in households around the world today - around male absence as a code of success. 
The albums blend the many Isaos and also blend the spaces he moved through with his identity to create what looks like a coherent self – space and self.

How this module works
This module is based on three consecutive family albums, which will be called Album 1, 2 and 3. As historical sources they are made for touching and gazing, suspended between what Kathleen Canning describes as “narrativity and materiality” (Canning DATE). The albums themselves are made of cardboard, velvet, and cardstock – they are heavy to hold, and smell of dust and damp. They are well-kept, but bear traces of their maker: handwriting, nicknames, even the whirling sepia fingerprints on pressed-down corners. 

There are four pathways. The first introduces the wider historical context on how photography was not only cultivated as an "ideal family pastime" (Ross, DATE) but how its practice became gendered through the spaces in which taking photos happened. The remaining three pathways take each album in turn. Album 1:  follows Isao's transition from dental student and newlywed, to father and tracks his movement behind the camera and questions the prevailing postwar narrative surrounding the absent father by showing the archival challenges in accounting for presence. Album 2 is mostly holiday photos and while perhaps expected album fodder it also traces the disappearance of images of Isao's teenage children - practically how the family's ability to travel changes as the children grow... Album 3 is an ode to and archive of Isao's extensive car collection, it explores the 

Family, travel and his cars emerge as ...

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