To illustrate our archive’s activity, we have included excerpts of two oral history interviews. One is by Kunie Sugiura, a conceptually-based photographer, whose interview was conducted in September 2008, with Reiko Tomii as a lead interviewer and myself as a second interviewer. We decided to interview Sugiura because she is one of the rare artists in her generation who moved to the US in the early 1960s to receive formal art education (in her case, studying photography at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago). The other artist we chose to include in this issue of Field Notes is Miyako Ishiuchi, a self-taught photographer. Having grown up in Yokosuka, where the US Navy is based, she was active in the student movement in the late 1960s. Her interview took place in December 2010, with Reiko Kokatsu as a lead interviewer and Izumi Nakajima a second interviewer.
Translated excerpts of each interview offer an interesting comparison between the photographic perspectives of the two artists. The two share certain biographical backgrounds, as each described in detail in her interview. Both of their mothers worked at US military bases. Sugiura’s mother worked at a PX (Post Exchange) of the US forces in Tokyo, and Ishiuchi’s mother worked as a driver at the Yokosuka base. While Sugiura had a good experience with friendly and generous American people, Ishiuchi’s mother was maltreated by her fellow Japanese people for working for the US forces. This might partly explain their future careers: Sugiura moved to the US at the age of twenty, continuing to live there today, whereas Ishiuchi debuted her first photobook on Yokosuka, and in recent years started a series on objects that survived the atomic bombing in Hiroshima.
However, reading the two interviews together reveals certain commonality between the two artists: Sugiura and Ishiuchi both faced a male-dominated value system of the art world, in Japan and in the US. Sugiura moved to the US, seeing no future for women with higher education in Japan, but she still had to confront her well-meaning male professor who thought women photographers should pursue documentary photography rather than contemporary experimental photography and assigned her to document a Japanese-American family’s life. In the case of Ishiuchi, she felt ill at ease first with the male-led student movement and then the male photographers' gaze on Yokosuka. This latter situation led her to decide to make her own photographs of her hometown from a female point of view.
Their situations are relevant to our own archival activities, too, as about 80 percent of Oral History Archives of Japanese Art interviewees are currently male, a fact which reflects the dominance of male perspectives in postwar Japanese art. Aware of this imbalance, we have tried to incorporate as many women’s voices as possible into our project. However, we chose these two interviews to be translated into English for Field Notes not simply because of their subject’s genders, but because of their excellent artistic achievements and the great clarity and intelligence they demonstrate in their interviews.
- Sat, 1 Dec 2012