Christina M. Spiker

Christina M. Spiker

Art Historian | Professor | Digital Humanist

Course // History of Photography (St. Olaf College)

COURSE INFORMATION

History of Photography
ART 256 | St. Olaf College

DESCRIPTION

Explore the history of photography as an artistic medium, a cultural expression, a technological marvel, and a social text. During our class we will travel around the globe, analyzing photographs from Europe and the United States, in addition to examples from China, India, Peru, Mexico, Germany, France, Great Britain, South Africa, and Japan. In addition to exploring photography as an artistic medium, we will look at the cultural discourse of photography, and engage in discussions on ethics, nationalism, gender, race, mass culture, and memory. Accordingly, the course includes readings from disciplines as diverse as art history, visual studies, visual anthropology, and sociology. Covering over a century of photographic practice, students will gain the ability to deeply understand and analyze the shifting medium of photography and its sociocultural contexts.

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Presentation // Optical Consistency in Ainu Photography: Tracing Networks of Transnational Reproduction

CITATION

Spiker, Christina M. “Optical Consistency in Ainu Photography: Tracing Networks of Transnational Reproduction,” paper planned to be delivered on the “Imaginaries in Motion: Early Transnational Photography in and beyond Asia” panel at the Association of Asian Studies, Boston (March 19-22, 2020) [CANCELLED DUE TO COVID-19]

ABSTRACT

As Meiji Japan transformed the island of Hokkaido in service of modernization, the indigenous Ainu contended with the invasive colonization of their land and sudden, intense interest in their culture from both Japanese and international travelers. This paper examines this nineteenth-century fascination as captured in early Ainu photography. I investigate the links between original tourist and ethnographic albumen prints, their reproduction as souvenirs and postcards, and their eventual translation into the medium of woodcut engraving. Rather than focusing on improvements in photographic technology, this paper draws upon a framework outlined by Bruno Latour to examine the mobilization of photographs to create a conceptual and optical consistency through an integration of both word and image. I argue that the understanding of the Ainu in both the Western and Japanese imagination often had little to do with capturing the reality of their lives, although this was often the claim. Instead, popular understanding depended on the visual calcification of the Ainu image into a cohesive notion of indigenous identity constructed solely from the outside. The resulting stereotypes were flat and one-dimensional. They found representation in a wide variety of media including Japanese tourist postcards, American newspapers, and photographs from the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition and the 1911 Japan-British Exhibition based on earlier visual models. By tracing the afterlives of several key images, I discuss how optical consistency was achieved over time and how it affected the Ainu community who found themselves at the center.

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

CITATION

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).

ABSTRACT

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.

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Presentation // Reproducing Alterity: Photography, Illustration, and the Maintenance of Ainu Stereotypes in Meiji and Taisho Japan (AHA)

CITATION

Spiker, Christina M. “Reproducing Alterity: Photography, Illustration, and the Maintenance of Ainu Stereotypes in Meiji and Taisho Japan,” paper delivered on the “Optics: Race, Religion, and Technology in East Asian Visual Culture, 1868-1949” panel at the American Historical Association (AHA) Conference, Washington D.C. (January 4-7, 2018)

ABSTRACT

The indigenous Ainu of northern Japan fascinated travelers as they searched for an “authentic” native experience in the unexplored Japanese frontier. Idealized as a singular non-Asian race stranded in the North Pacific, writers, artists, and anthropologists not only textually described Ainu manners and customs but also reproduced countless photographs and illustrations, which would come to visually define Ainu culture in the Euro-American imaginary. Since works depicting the Ainu tended to be overly reliant on readily available photographs from the tourist trade, a small body of images came to stand in for the whole of Ainu experience and culture in the eyes of late nineteenth and early twentieth century European and American readers. Eventually, even Ainu producers of image and text would have no choice but to engage with these dominant representations.

This paper views the photography of the Ainu as a complex, multi-media endeavor. I adopt a broad definition of photography in an effort to investigate links between original albumen prints, their reproduction, and their eventual translation into the medium of woodcut engraving or illustration. This paper examines some key examples of Ainu photography by popular studios, such as that of Austrian photographer Baron Raimund von Stillfried (1839-1911), and explores engravings based on these original photographic works. In addition to popular producers, this paper will also consider the crucial role that Meiji-era photographs played for Ainu illustrator Katahira Tomijiro (1900-1959), who used them as reference images for his painted works. Ultimately, I argue that the importance of indigenous photography goes far beyond the provenance of the printed image. 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.

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Book Chapter // “Civilized” Men and “Superstitious” Women: Visualizing the Hokkaido Ainu in Isabella Bird’s Unbeaten Tracks, 1880

CITATION

Spiker, Christina. “‘Civilized’ Men and ‘Superstitious’ Women: Visualizing the Hokkaido Ainu in Isabella Bird’s Unbeaten Tracks, 1880.” In Gender, Continuity, and the Shaping of Modernity in the Arts of East Asia, 16th–20th Centuries, edited by Lara Blanchard and Kristen Chiem, 287-315. Leiden: Brill, 2017.

ABSTRACT

Open any modern travel guide on Japan and you will likely find mention of Victorian explorer, writer, and naturalist Isabella Lucy Bird (1851–1904). Known for her travels throughout the United States, Australia, and Asia, Bird’s publications and vibrant lecture circuit made her a household name in nineteenth-century Great Britain. Her two-volume work Unbeaten Tracks in Japan is unique in its detailed, subjective account of the customs and manners of the Ainu—the indigenous minority dwelling in Hokkaido, the northernmost island of the Japanese archipelago. This essay treats Bird’s travelogue as a visual object to analyze the role of photography and illustration in relation to the text. I argue that by adopting an art historical framework, we gain a unique perspective on Bird’s significant role in constructing the ubiquitous Ainu stereotype by reinforcing prescribed gender roles for Ainu men and women. This chapter examines how photography taken by male photographers living in Japan such as Baron Raimund von Stillfried (1839–1911) were translated into woodcut engravings and then printed in a travelogue written by a woman. This process raises questions regarding gender, medium, and the role of realism in a new transnational economy of Ainu images consumed by Victorian audiences.

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Website // Tracing Lines (WordPress)

CITATION

Spiker, Christina M. Tracing Lines. http://geneology.cmspiker.com.

DESCRIPTION

This website is a personal project of mine that documents my archival quest to learn about my ancestors. I have often been surprised at the overlap between genealogical research and the archival research that I do as a part of my scholarly work. I wanted the website to serve as a resource for my family in addition to serving as a thought experiment in linking academic scholarship on memory and photography with the real practice of creating a personal genealogy. I work on this site primarily during the summer and winter months when classes are not in session.

The website is built using WordPress with embedded widgets from WikiTree. Eventually, I would like to employ some mapping so that I can visually place my ancestors on a map.

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Dissertation // Ainu Fever: Indigenous Representation in a Transnational Visual Economy, 1868–1933

CITATION

Spiker, Christina. Ainu Fever: Indigenous Representation in a Transnational Visual Economy, 1868–1933. Dissertation. University of California, Irvine, 2015.

ABSTRACT

Romanticized as a lone Caucasoid race surrounded by Mongoloids, the Ainu―an indigenous people from the Hokkaido region of northern Japan―fascinated turn-of-the-century tourists, anthropologists and intellectuals. Suffering from the insatiable Wanderlust produced by rapid modernization, explorers traveled to Hokkaido in search of an “authentic” native experience outside of the Westernized Japanese treaty ports. British, American, and even Japanese travelers likened the unruly geography of the northern frontier to the Ainu body and personality. For some, these “hairy” indigenous people epitomized the exotic; for others, the ethnic ambiguity of the Ainu embodied a fantasy of aboriginal whiteness. Surveying the images represented in explorers’ reports, travel memoires, world’s fair press releases, and indigenous publications, this dissertation examines networks of visual imagery that formed a consistent stereotype of Ainu culture from the height of Euro-American and Japanese “Ainu fever” in the late nineteenth century to the indigenous collectivization of the Ainu circa 1930. This dissertation is organized around transnational personalities such as traveler Isabella Bird, novelist Edward Greey, artist Arnold Henry Savage Landor, anthropologist Frederick Starr, photographer Arnold Genthe, artist Kondō Kōichiro, illustrator Katahira Tomijirō, and writer Takekuma Tokusaburō. While explorers and tourists traveled to Hokkaido to find themselves in the north, the Ainu had to contend with becoming an absent center in their own visual discourse. In addition to addressing images produced by British, American, and Japanese travelers, this research also investigates indigenous voices, such as Katahira and Takekuma, in order to restore attention to the self-fashioning of the Ainu image in print culture. These case studies span diverse visual media and synthesize text and image to investigate the role of circulation in producing knowledge about the Ainu. This project argues that while the origin of Ainu stereotypes can be found in Japanese Ainu-e paintings or early Euro-American travelogues of Hokkaido, they became a mainstay of late nineteenth and early twentieth-century visual culture through the incessant reproduction of a small body of images across space and time.

Top photograh taken by the author at Lake Poroto in Shiraoi, bottom photograph taken by the author at the Nibutani Ainu Culture Museum.

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Presentation // Constructing the Indigenous: Nineteenth-Century Circulation and Transformation of the Ainu

CITATION

Spiker, Christina M. “Constructing the Indigenous: Nineteenth-Century Circulation and Transformation of the Ainu Image in British and American Print Culture,” paper delivered at the Nineteenth Century Workshop (Theme: Circulation), Rutgers University. (October 2, 2014).

ABSTRACT

The indigenous Ainu of northern Japan fascinated Anglophone explorers and travelers, as they searched for an “authentic” native experience in the unexplored Japanese frontier. Idealized as a non-Asian race stranded in the North Pacific, writers like Philipp Franz von Siebold (1796-1866), Isabella Lucy Bird (1831-1904), and Edward Greey (1835-1888) not only described Ainu manners and customs, but reproduced countless illustrations which would come to define the native people in the Euro-American imaginary. Augmenting previous textual analyses of early engagement with the Ainu, this essay is an attempt at a visual history of the Ainu as defined by the transformation, reproduction, and circulation of illustrations in travelogues and descriptions of the world.

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Presentation // The Ainu Moses: Arnold Genthe’s 1908 Ainu Photography

CITATION

Spiker, Christina M. “The Ainu Moses: Arnold Genthe’s 1908 Ainu Photography,” paper delivered at the Japan Art History Forum graduate panel, College Arts Association, Los Angeles (February 24, 2012).

ABSTRACT

This paper examines the role of the Ainu in the Euro-American imagination through the study of Arnold Genthe’s photographs from his trip to Japan in 1908. Although representations of the Ainu are often discussed in the context of Japanese debates over race and ethnicity, it is my contention that the Ainu played a larger role than currently attributed in the construction of Euro-American identity prior to 1920. Representations of the Ainu are enmeshed in the discourse of the “vanishing race,” and provide an interesting example of what was thought to be a “proto-white” people by European and American anthropologists. Using Genthe’s photographs as an entryway into these debates of the early 20th century, I see his work as intersecting Meiji photographic practices, European interest in the Ainu as a form of self-assessment, and the budding field of American ethnography. Bridging terrain between Japanese and American visual culture, this paper examines the way in which Genthe’s photographs contribute to a transnational economy of images constructing notions of American and Japanese identity.

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