Somehow, of love and immortality

Upon returning from photographing a wedding on Pearl Beach last weekend, I found a message from a man named Greg Leon in Melbourne:

I have just seen a news article at ABC Online… regarding Yasukichi Murakami and your biographical work on him. The article mentioned the scarcity of his photographs from his Darwin years. I have a set of 15 photographs that Mr Murakami may have taken of my parents when they were married in Darwin in May 1940. If you are interested please let me know… Regards, Greg

Interested?! This is what I’ve been doing for nearly 3 years: Looking for Yasukichi Murakami’s photographs, especially from Darwin.

I telephoned Greg immediately.

Back of the envelope

Back of the envelope found by Greg Leon.

Dear Mayu,

I was surprised and delighted to receive your call today. The timing was something of a coincidence as I was scheduled this afternoon to perform (inter alia) a song I wrote that refers to Murakami-san’s photos of my parents’ wedding in Darwin in 1940. For info, I am a part-time singer-songwriter (and a semi-retired IT Consultant, Project Manager, Business Analyst).

I have attached scans of the envelope in which I found the photos (as film negatives). I have also attached one of the images revealing the shadow of the photographer!

Imelda (nee Leahy) and Tony Leon on their wedding day in Darwin, 1940. Photo probably by Yasukichi Murakami

Imelda (nee Leahy) and Tony Leon on their wedding day in Darwin, 1940. Photo probably by Yasukichi Murakami

When I was a younger photographer working for Fairfax Media, many of my colleagues said wedding photography was not a path to pursue for a serious photojournalist. Yet I enjoyed enjoy being of service as a photographer who endeavours to leave memories of love.

Photographing a wedding gives a photographer a great chance for his / her work to serve for generations to come. In a sense, it is our best shot at immortality.

Greg added:

My parents were Imelda (nee Leahy) and Tony Leon. Both were born in Adelaide, but my father’s family were from Melbourne. I understand that they met in Darwin just three weeks prior to their wedding. I am not sure when they returned to Adelaide, but I assume it was prior to 1941. After the start of the “Pacific” war, my father enlisted and went to New Guinea, while my mother remained in Adelaide as a nurse in one of the military hospitals. After I was born in 1947, my parents moved to Melbourne where I have spent the rest of my life to date.

Looking a little more critically – and from an amateur photographer’s perspective – some questions spring to mind:

– Why would a professional photographer allow his shadow to fall within the frame?

– Wouldn’t a professional photographer retain the negatives, rather than returning them to the client?

– Looking at the photographs as a set, I cannot help thinking they are almost too casual for a pro.

So, the Big One: was Murakami-san the actual photographer, or did he just process the film as a service for the person who took the photographs? What do you think?

Looking forward to further discussion!

Best regards, Greg

Envelope found by Greg Leon. The handwriting is that of Yasukichi Murakami's.

Envelope found by Greg Leon. The handwriting is that of Yasukichi Murakami’s.

I do not know all the answers.

I know that when I had photographed weddings on negatives, I often gave the negatives to the bride and groom. They are best with them, and not for us to keep a hold on the work we have taken part and brought to creation.

Murakami did leave his shadow in two of his family photographs.  There could be many more. John E deB Norman told me once that he has a photograph of Eki Nishioka’s shadow. Perhaps it was Eki who taught Murakami to leave his shadow in a photo every so often.

Somehow, the words love and immortality to come to mind.

Emma Dean and Joon Yang at Pearl Beach 2014 Photo by Mayu Kanamori

Emma Dean and Joon Yang at Pearl Beach 2014 Photo by Mayu Kanamori

– Posted by Mayu Kanamori

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Murakami’s photographic studio

Yasukichi Murakami’s studio must have been around where Bungalow Bar or where Camdons Broome Pearls and Fine Jewellery stands now.

In search of where Murakami’s photographic studio may have been, I walked up and down around the block between Canravon St, Short St, Dampier Terrace and old Johnny Chi Lane in Broome’s Chinatown. Because of advertisement records in old phone books, we know that Nishioka’s Emporium where Eki started her photographic studio at the back of the shop had its address in Canarvon St. But back of the emporium where the studio was may have faced Dampier Terrace or the old Johnny Chi Lane. That would have been very early 1900s.

Carol Tang Wei, the co author of The Story of the Chinese in Broome has created a map of China Town circa 1935 – 1940 based on her mother’s memories. In her map there is a Japanese photographer’s studio on Dampier Terrace, three doors down from the corner of Short St. Is it possible that Murakami’s photographic studio moved their premises between his earlier days in Broome and just before he moved to Darwin? Perhaps the studio always remained in the same spot — either where the Bungalow Bar or next door where the Camdons Broome Pearls and Fine Jewellery stands today.

Bungalow Bar and Camdon’s on Dampier Terrace, China Town, Broome. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

On the morning of my departure from Broome, my long time close friend and fellow photographer Jon Armstrong and I met in China Town. It was Jon who taught me how to use Final Cut Pro to tell stories with still photographs. I asked him to photograph me in front of the Bungalow Bar on Dampier Terrace.

There is a photograph of young Murakami held at the Broome Museum. It must have been Eki who photographed him. The caption on the photograph reads: Murakami Aged 21. Photo taken outside Nishioka Store. Item Dated 1st May 1901. Eki was the one who brought the camera to Australia and she taught Murakami how to take photographs. To ask Jon to photograph me in front of the Bungalow Bar seemed to me like the most natural thing to do.

– Posted by Mayu Kanamori

The intuition

How do I tell the difference between Eki’s photographs and Murakami’s? Luckily for me, Noreen Jones, the author of No 2 Home was back in town.

Without delay I saw her in her son’s home in Broome. No 2 Home has been for me one of the most inspirational books written in the last ten years. I have read and re-read chapters of her book like a bible, taking notes and making use of the valuable information she has shared with us all. I had so many questions for her:

Who was H. Wada, the photographer who has left many photographs in the Mise Photographic Collection, which is held by Jones. Does she mind if I exhibited my photographs alongside the photographs in her collections? Who were the other five Japanese photographers she mentions in her book? Is one of them Eki? Is Wada the other? In the Jones’ National Archives collection, there is a copy of the certificate exempting Hichijiro Wada from the dictation test. Is this the same H. Wada?

How do I tell the difference between Eki’s photographs and Murakami’s?

Of course no one can know, but perhaps it is possible to know intuitively. As a photographer I know this is possible. I want to learn more.

– Posted by Mayu Kanamori

Kennedy Hill

“Mr Murakami was the second best photographer Broome has ever had,” John E deB Norman, the co-author with Verity Norman of A Pearling Master’s Journey: in the wake of the Schooner Mistsaid on the phone. In his opinion Eki, the wife of Takazo (Tomasi) Nishioka was Broome’s best photographer ever. ” But Mr Murakami was the better with indoor photography and in particular group and solo studio portraits at which he excelled.”

So provocative was this thought – a woman photographer in the early 1900’s being the best photographer the town ever had, I immediately requested audience with him at his home with his wife Verity.

When asked further, he told me that Mrs Eki Nishioka understood light and most of the outdoor photographs of the time were taken by her. He mentioned a particular photograph of the luggers taken from Kennedy Hill on the preface of his book (Broome Creek image (page xiii courtesy of the Western Australian Museum) would have been taken by her. He thought this particular photograph demonstrated a collaboration between Murakami and Eki: Murakami carried the tripod up Kennedy Hill for Eki, but it was Eki who had photographed the luggers among the mangroves, not Murakami.

Equipped with these thoughts, I later climbed up Kennedy Hill much like Eki and Murakami must have done, but I was on my own, and so to reduce the weight over my shoulders, I had left my tripod behind in my car. Even then it was difficult to climb the sand dune with my equipment to get to where I could photograph the sea scape below, carefully avoiding sea shells and broken glass, presumably left by the illegal campers evicted from Kennedy Hill about a year ago.

The blades of broken glass were glistening in the afternoon light and were no longer threateningly sharp . They had slightly weathered over the previous year, making me wonder how long it would take for the multi colored glass of green, brown, orange and crystal to lose its edges enough to look like a precious jewel.

The sun casted strange shadows along my path and I felt like my mind was in another world and that I could feel someone in the distance watching me. I reached the top of the hill, but there were no luggers below. Just overgrown mangroves, but as I began photographing, I could almost hear the shouting and jostling of sea men at shore and the laughter of women who waited for them.

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– Posted by Mayu Kanamori

Calling of names

Finding Takazo (Tomasi) Nishioka’s grave was not as difficult as imagined. Nishioka was the shop owner who Murakami worked for as a young man in Cossack. Together they moved to Broome and opened an emporium in China Town, which doubled as a photographic studio.

Walking slowly through the morning cemetery, calling out the names carved on every tombstone is one way of not missing a single soul. About quarter of the way in on the northern side of the cemetery stands Takazo Nishioka’s grave. Erected by his wife Eki, tall in stature, and proud of his contribution to this town. After photographing Nishioka’s grave, it felt somehow unfair to stop calling out their names. So with the intention of finding clues about H. Wada, I walked through the rest of the cemetery, calling each name out loud.

There were three tombstones with the name Wada inscribed, but none with the name corresponding to the initial H. By the time I finished calling out all 900 plus names, the morning sun was beating down a little too strong for comfort. I made my way to the Old Convent to search the photographic archives of St John of God.

Takazo Nishioka's tomb, Japanese Cemetery, Broome. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

Posted by Mayu Kanamori

A Gift

My collaborator Lorna Kaino had once lived and worked in Broome and now is a senior lecturer at Curtin University. In between an excursion to the Art Gallery of Western Australia, and over lunch and dinner at Taka’s Japanese Restaurant in Shafto Lane, Lorna and I exchanged ideas, explored possibilities, made plans for our project, and wrote down our immediate tasks.

She had already spent time researching Murakami, and presented me with a photocopy of images from the Mise Photographic Collection, donated to Norren Jones by Tamae Mise in 1999. Back in my hotel room, I began to sift through pages of our precious gift: old photographs handed down from Tamae Mise to Noreen Jones, and now for Lorna and I to pass on to people after us.

From a single moment in early days of the last century, posed in front of the camera with their eyes — eyes staring straight into the camera lens, passed through the printing process, hands of many people, finding itself out of Broome, out of Australia to Ehime Prefecture in Japan, then back to Western Australia, scanned, photocopied and now staring at me in my hotel room in Perth.

Young Tamae Mise was photographed, presumably by Murakami in his studio with Kamesaburo Mise, who may have been her young father or an uncle — perhaps a much older brother. Tamae looks aboout three years old — and Kamesaburo looks about twenty-one. The photograph is not dated.

I think Murakami had photographed this portrait because there is a printed signature on the bottom left hand corner of the mount, which reads “Y. Nishioka.” Nishioka is the family name of Takazo (Tomasi) Nishioka, who I understand was the shop owner who took young Murakami under his care whilst they were both in Cossack, ‘adopted’ Murakami and together moved to Broome, and set up a shop, which they used as part photographic studio for the Japanese community in Broome. It is part of Japanese practice to take on the surname of the ‘adopted’ family. Lorna who is more experienced and me in historical research has pointed out that a Y. Nishioka signature may not necessarily mean it was Murakami’s photography…. it may have been Nishioka’s his wife! And indeed, it may have been his wife – or is assistant – or his teacher who took the photograph.

There is another photograph of Kamesaburo Mise in the collection, this one as a baby, presumably with his mother Kikuye, taken, according to what was given to me in the bounded photocopies, circa 1905 with the same Nishioka signature on its mount. I am assuming that this date is based what was passed onto Noreen Jones by Tamae Mise, but I may be wrong. Yet in another photograph, young Kamesaburo is photographed in a Japanese junior school uniform, this time with a printed signature by H. Wada. Who is Wada? Another Japanese photographer who I did not know about about? H. Wada left many photographs behind as part of the Mise Photographic Collection. His studio backdrops and mounts differ to those of Murakami, and at least in the Mise Photographic Collection, there are many photographs taken on location, such as in front of the Japanese hospital in Broome (circa 1921-25) and Ehime Club Association’s 10th Memorial Sumo Tournament on New Year’s Day 1 January 1922.

In the photograph in front of the Japanese hospital which Wada took, Murakami is identified. He is sitting next to the central figure Doctor Masuyama.

– Mayu Kanamori