Christina M. Spiker

Christina M. Spiker

Art Historian | Professor | Digital Humanist

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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Presentation // An Itinerary of Hokkaido: Photo Postcards, Tourism, and Erasing the Indigenous Body

CITATION

Spiker, Christina M. “An Itinerary of Hokkaido: Photo Postcards, Tourism, and Erasing the Indigenous Body,” paper delivered at the Eighteenth Asian Studies Conference Japan (ASCJ), Sophia University, Tokyo. (June 21, 2014).

ABSTRACT

Photo postcards are an often-ignored category of photographic reproduction, but a crucial hallmark of the modern travel experience. The everydayness and obviousness of the postcard format makes it a ripe primary material through which we can learn about culture, racial attitudes, and the inner-workings of imperial ideology. In this paper, I interrogate a single early Showa-period Japanese postcard set (ca. 1926-1940) that engages with the customs of the Japanese indigenous minority, the Ainu. Produced in Hokkaido, I argue that this particular set exemplifies a much broader postcard phenomenon that negotiates the industrialized Hokkaido landscape with the loss of indigenous, Ainu spaces. The speed of train travel forever changed the tourist experience in Japan by making it feasible to reach obscure locales with ease. As a testament to this new configuration of the tourist map in Hokkaido, postcards like these stand as visual relics that embrace new tourist geographies while illuminating the specter of the indigenous Ainu village erased in the name of progress. This particular postcard set was produced in order to educate a new sightseeing public about the Ainu linguistic origins of Hokkaido city names. The Ainu are visually relegated to the periphery—both literally and figuratively—as Japanese text is superimposed over native bodies in a crowded collage. Through a creative juxtaposition of image, text, and lithographic design these postcards simultaneously laud the wonders of railway travel to the island interior while inscribing new transportation hubs with nostalgia for a pre-Meiji, indigenous past.

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Presentation // Discovering Hokkaido: Postcards, Train Travel, and the Mapping of Tourist Space

CITATION

Spiker, Christina M. “Discovering Hokkaido: Postcards, Train Travel, and the Mapping of Tourist Space,” paper delivered at the Nature of Space, Visual Arts Graduate Student Conference, UC San Diego. (March 9, 2013).

ABSTRACT

Photo postcards are an often-ignored category of photographic production, but a crucial hallmark of the modern travel experience. The everydayness and obviousness of the postcard medium makes it a ripe primary material through which we can learn about culture, racial attitudes, and the inner-workings of imperial ideology. In this paper, I interrogate a single Japanese postcard set (ca. 1926-1940) that engages with the customs of the Japanese indigenous minority, the Ainu. Produced in Hokkaido—the northernmost island in the Japanese archipelago—I argue that this particular set exemplifies a much broader postcard phenomenon that negotiates the newly industrialized Hokkaido frontier with the loss of indigenous, Ainu spaces. Through a creative juxtaposition of image, text, and graphic design these postcards simultaneously laud the wonders of railway travel to the island interior while inscribing new transportation hubs with nostalgia for an indigenous past.

Postcards sold near railway stations were crucial in establishing the modern tourist landscape of Hokkaido. Previous travel routes depicted in nineteenth-century maps were traversed on horse or on foot. The speed of train travel forever changed the tourist experience of space, as visitation became limited to those sites with railway station access. As a testament to this new configuration of frontier space, postcards like these stand as visual relics that embrace new tourist geographies while illuminating the specter of the indigenous village erased in the name of progress. This postcard set of seven was produced in order to educate a new sightseeing public about the Ainu linguistic origins of Hokkaido city names. The Ainu are relegated to the periphery—both literally and figuratively—as Japanese text is superimposed over native bodies in a crowded collage. This postcard set illuminates not only the emergent geographies prompted by train travel, but also ideologies informing the new tourist experience of native culture.

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