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

Making myself: Yajima Isao as subject

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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