Author:Donald Wood (Akita University)
Paper short abstract:
This paper explores the ethnographic use of photography by a farmer to document life in his home village in Akita Prefecture, northeastern Japan, in the 1930s. It considers the influence of his patron, Shibusawa Keizo, and implications for photographic anthropology today and in the future.
Paper long abstract:
Born the third son of a farmer in a tiny northeastern Japanese village, Yoshida Saburo (1905-1979) was an unlikely candidate for later membership in the intellectual circle of Shibusawa Keizo, grandson of Meiji-era industrialist Shibusawa Eiichi. But Yoshida found himself involved with Shibusawa's ethnological research association, the Attic Museum, after Shibusawa decided to publish a manuscript that Yoshida had written on his home village. Prior to this book's publication in 1935, Shibusawa descended upon Yoshida's village with a team of young Attic researchers armed with cameras. The photos taken on this trip became part of the Attic Museum's massive photograph collection, and many appeared in Yoshida's first book. Yoshida than received a camera from Shibusawa, and from that point photography became a central part of his ethnography—his mission: to document the rigors of subsistence-level production and the rich material culture of his community. Although he was neither a member of the Communist Party nor involved with the proletarian movement, Yoshida was critical of government policy and hoped that through meticulous recording of his life and that of his community—and also hard work, diligent study, and a frugal lifestyle—he might be able to help bring about change. His ethnographic writing and photography, therefore, had a political nature that, while subtle, elucidated social problems. This presentation will consider Yoshida's prewar ethnological photography in this light, attempting to resolve its inherently contradictory nature while untangling its goals and messages, with reference to the present and future of photographic anthropology.
Photographic anthropology: past, present, and future