Before cameras were something families could afford to buy and use at home, photographs were composed, taken, and developed by photography studios. Photographers took the photographs in their studios through advanced booking or walk-in trade, and they also travelled to customer’s houses or pre-designated locations. Having your photo taken in a studio was an experience that cost money, generated a story to tell others, and provided evidence which could be displayed at home, carried on one’s body, or kept safe for future viewers.
By the 1930s, the photographic act was an established middle–class family habit, but one which, following the progression of Japan’s war in China, was almost universally interrupted as metal, chemicals, rubber, leather, bodies, and free time were mobilized for the war effort. Following Japanese surrender in August 1945, the postwar households of Japan renewed the practice of family photography with remarkable swiftness, and resumed buying, selling, using, and breaking cameras and associated paraphernalia in a sustained upward trend until 1990.
The particular surge of camera ownership in the late 1950s was heralded as “camera fever” (kamera netsu), and was buoyed by increased international export and a growing international reputation for the “Japanese Camera.” At the centre of this fever were male amateur photographers, a substantial portion of whom were otōsan kameraman (camera man fathers). Anecdotally, these new cultural figures were said to only emerge on Sundays, and were found with their cameras, capturing their families at leisure in parks and popular picnic spots rather than documenting the domestic spaces and labours of house and home. The photographs these Sunday photographers were taking were mainly posed portraits, or kinen shashin. However, starting in the early 1950s, the kinen shashin was criticised for its old-fashioned feel, as commentators lamented that the stiff expressions in photographs came from forced poses that were produced by the familiar refrain to stop and pose. Instead, the zeitgeist called on amateurs to “snap” (snappu).
The “snap” was initially more defined by its opposition to the posed photograph than by any prescriptive coordinates of style. In contrast to kinen shashin, for example, it was not expected to be taken as part of an institutionally-sanctioned record. Snaps were resolutely personal, informal, and designed to be taken quickly and instinctively. Lauded in postwar amateur photography discourse, the “snap” was described as the only way the amateur photographer could really catch reality and the best way to ensure photographs were more emotionally accurate. The development of the happy snapper and the photos they took had two influences. The first was the postwar artistic turn toward realism, or rearizmu, taken by Japanese art photographers, a thorough account of which has been made by Julia Thomas (2008). The second influence was the profit ambitions of the national camera industry. The encouragement to snap away was aimed at both reducing the skills barrier holding people back from having a camera and at getting people to use and buy more exposures. Snap advocacy was specifically geared at getting women behind the lens and getting everyday family life in the frame. The assumed daily, physical contact women had with their children was seen as the optimum condition for “snapping,” whereas photographs that benefitted from physical distance, such as outings or school sports’ days (undō kai), were suggested as more appropriate subjects for fathers to capture.
There are two threads concerning how the snap folds into Isao's story. The first is in the development of his style of photography. While he did experiment with the snappu he largely preferred posed photographs. Second, the scarcity of snaps in the family albums reflects how he spent his time and the time-space constraints of the snap. The snappish turn that professionals advocated were unrealistic for many otōsan kameraman; capturing your child napping, fighting, or lost in play was therefore handed to the emergent figure of the snappy mother.