Christina M. Spiker

Christina M. Spiker

Art Historian | Professor | Digital Humanist

Public Lecture // Indigenous Modernity in Hokkaido, Japan: the Complexities of Ainu Representation in Photography and Illustration (Macalester College)


Spiker, Christina M. “Indigenous Modernity in Hokkaido, Japan: the Complexities of Ainu Representation in Photography and Illustration,” public lecture delivered at Macalester College. Co-sponsored by Art and Art History, Asian Studies, and the Office of Academic Programs (September 19, 2019).


The Japanese island of Hokkaido experienced a boom of travel at the turn of the twentieth century as explorers sought out the indigenous Ainu—a people who were often idealized as a singular white race stranded in the North Pacific. These travelers reproduced countless representations of the Ainu; images that would come to define their culture in the Euro-American imaginary. This presentation explores notions of indigenous modernity through photography and illustration from 1870 until roughly 1930. In what ways did the visual field preclude the existence of modern indigenous subjectivity in Hokkaido? How did photography play a role in the construction and reinforcement of native Ainu stereotypes in Japan and abroad? This lecture will examine some key examples of Ainu photography by popular studios and discuss engravings and newspaper collages based on these original photographic works. It will also explore how Ainu producers of image and text—such as Takekuma Tokusaburō and Katahira Tomijirō—engaged with these dominant representations. Understanding the gradual development of optical consistency from photographs to the illustrations based on them can better illuminate the calcification of Ainu stereotypes at home and abroad, as well as expand our understanding of photography as a visual medium in Meiji and Taishō Japan.