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

The albums

This page begins all three album pathways. It does this to emphasise the aesthetic, personal and spatial connections between the three volumes.

Isao's albums are largely chronological, they also create a version of Yajima family life that is distilled through concentrating on certain spaces. Aside from the touchable, foxed pages of the albums themselves, a viewer of the family albums comes to know their curated life through the time they spent outside the home. On the few occasions the home was photographed, it was nearly always its threshold spaces of doorstep, window, veranda or garden that were captured to speak for the home as a place the Yajimas were. Isao made this choice consistently across the albums and in his images of both Yajima homes. In contrast, when the family were away from home—staying at hotels or with friends—the inner rooms were eagerly captured as seen in the photograph below from Isao and Eiko's 1961 trip to Atami.

Why did Isao take and keep so few images from inside the Yajima home? It may have been a question of aesthetic consistency with the outside of the house offering a consistent backdrop. Practically it could have been that the house interior was too dark to get a good photo—but as there are a few photographs taken indoors particularly when the children were newborns, we know a indoor snaps were possible. There may have been a performative element at play, with Isao wanting to be seen outside with his camera in his status as otōsan kamerman. Whatever the motivation behind the choice not to include many images of the home in these albums, the result is that the domestic interior emerges as a subject through its absence. As Isao ran the family dental practice from within the structure of his home for most of his professional life, the invisibility of the domestic space in the albums is not explained by his sustained physical absence at a place of work distant from his home. Instead, the invisibility of the home suggests both what Isao thought photography was for and where he thought it should happen. Like most otōsan kamerman taking pictures of his family was part of a public performance rather than a private practice, and a way in which he enjoyed himself. The content in albums 1, 2 and 3 reflect this.

The photo reel below tracks how Isao used threshold spaces across all three albums to speak for his home. Looking across them, observe the differences between how and where Isao and Eiko pose; while Isao is always external to the house almost like a sentinel, Eiko is occasionally captured from the inside, looking out—transforming Isao momentarily into a domestic voyeur. It might be tempting to wonder whether the spaces in which his photos were taken represented the limits—geographic and emotional—of where his fathering happened. Instead this module argues that the distance between himself and his home visible in his photographs signifies where the findable parts of his fathering happened. The recurrence of threshold images in the albums also suggests that the family home becomes visible through his separation from it; much like the snaps of his car in Album 3, his physical removal from the home was an act of class and status—he had time and wealth enough for spending time outside with his family through camera clicks and day trips.

Without a visual grasp on the interior life of the Yajima home, the albums testify to the existence but not the details of the Yajima home as a material and inhabited space. The pages are sun-bleached, curled with the memory of moisture and some images carry sticky fingerprints. While albums are neither rooms nor passing places between them, the linear stacking of images on a page and in a volume succeeds in conjures a feeling of architecture and the movement between inside and out. Isao deftly shows this on an early page in the first album where he pasted three sequential studio portraits of himself in a loose circle around a photograph of the family dental practice.

This is not just a record of ageing and place, but a visual playing out of connections between individuals, space and identity. It is as if the hereditary pull of the family practice took paper form, but Isao was kept somehow at its periphery. As much as the taking of a photograph created a space between subject and photographer, between threshold and beyond, the sticking and cutting of making an album also created a domestic space and its archive.

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