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

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

Otōsan kameraman

In 1964, 44 percent of households owned a camera, and the primary user of these millions of cameras was, in nearly all cases, a man (Economic and Social Research Institute). This moment in history was also marked by the spread of the moniker “cameraman father” (otōsan kameraman). The gendering of the person behind the camera piggybacked on the already gendered patterns of consumption of stuff and information in amateur photography; photography magazines habitually appeared to address the male reader and snapper. Beyond consumption, the label also divided family space time by whether it was suitable for a father or mother photographer. While the “Mama no kamera kyōshitsu” column in Yoiko magazine (running from 1962-1970) called on women to snap away at the tea table, when the family camera was outside the home at school sports days and formal ceremonies, experts and satirists expected it to be wielded by a father. Isao is an excellent example of this imaginary man in action as the following page from Album 1 shows.

One winter’s day around 1948, Isao and Haruki visited the grounds of the Meiji Memorial Picture Gallery. The trip would have taken between thirty minutes to an hour from the eastern suburbs they called home. As the family did not own a car until 1952, they probably took public transport. Haruki packed a small duffle bag, wore the hat from his school uniform pulled low around his brow, and fastened his coat all the way to the top button to stop the cold from getting in. The only thing we know that Isao packed was his camera. Isao devoted one full page of the album to eight photographs from this day trip. Additional photographs appear later in the album and extend the narrative to include a visit to Hibiya Park, with its trees bare, and a trip through Ginza Crossing to gawk at the traffic controllers stranded on their concrete islands.

What is clear from this example is how the photographic moment carved out time together for fathers and their children and emphatically did so outside the home—the otōsan kameraman was an outdoor apparition. The photographs may show where they went and what they saw, but they also create a new point of access into a way fathers participated in childrearing. For Isao, the photograph was a way to experience and perform his identity as father, and the photograph album was one of the ways he labelled himself as such. Across the album captions, Isao refers to himself as “Isao,” “Yajima,” “father” (otōsan), and “papa” (papa); photography was perhaps the only way to reconcile each of these identities with the identity of a working man. For Isao, and perhaps many other postwar men, photography was instrumental in providing a sanctioned space in which to blend family with his world beyond the doorstep.

As Isao’s day trip with Haruki begins to show, the practice of family photography also turned fathering and the family unit into a transportable public spectacle. In contrast, it was mothers who, when the camera was turned inward towards the home, were targeted by manufacturers and experts to turn their daily life into something aesthetic, public, consumable, and productive. Although the single album page “Around Gaien” radically suggested that the Yajima family was not always somewhere Eiko was present, it still preserved the home as a space marked by Isao’s absence.

Source: Economic and Social Research Institute, Cabinet Office. “Percentage of Households Possessing Major Durable Goods—All Japan (1959-2004).”

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