Archivists and heritage experts

Julie Murakami and I began our search for Yasukichi Murakami’s life and photographs he has left behind at the Northern Territory office of the National Archives of Australia. Thankfully the archivist who assisted us was supportive, encouraging and enthusiastic, giving us an auspicious start to our research. She helped us with clues about how to tackle the massive archives that held the records of our national heritage. A local woman of Aboriginal and Chinese descent, she was also interested in her own family history, searching for information about her Chinese grandfather. She told us that research can be addictive, and watching her navigate the massive web of our archives, continuously clicking her mouse, following one lead after another, made me think that this could indeed be a portrait of an addict. But then again, I think it may be my own delusional tendencies that needed a reality check: I was beginning to believe that it was the spirits of those buried underneath the vaults of our archives that possessed us to so passionately dig into our hidden histories.

Archival Officer Joanne Wood at National Archives, NT Office. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

At the Heritage Branch of the Northern Territory’s Department of Natural Resources, Environment, The Arts and Sport, we met a dedicated and very helpful heritage expert who had some years ago written a report about the heritage listed building in Cavanaugh Street in Darwin’s Central Business District, commonly known as the Stone Houses. In the report is the name Murakami as one of the occupants of this building in the early 1940’s. It is by coincidence that he had answered the phone when I rang to seek some help in locating where Yasukichi’s photographic studio may have been. Such coincidences make me feel that the spirits are with us, and once again, I find the need to remind myself not to be carried away.

At the Northern Territory Archives Service we met an archivist who awakened us to the broader and more meaningful implications of the search for Yasukichi Murakami’s photographs. So professional was her approach to her trade, it made clear to us her dedication to public service, beyond the servicing of Julie and I and her current array of clients / researchers, but for the generation after and the generation thereon after.

Julie Murakami at NT archives. Photo by Mayu Kanamori

Meeting with archivists and heritage experts have inspired my processes of art making to take shape in a very different way to what I had imagined. I am unsure how to put it in words just at the moment, but I do know that it will be an important part of the story I am about to tell of Yasukichi Murakami’s life and work. The current clues point towards how an individual photographer / image maker takes part in service of the collective memory of future generations, how our archival practices take part in this process, and how art making can make a difference. It all sounds very grand and perhaps very vague, but I can begin in small specific ways: by suggesting corrections when noticing an error in the records, whenever possible requesting digitization and opening of records which are yet to be opened, and to encourage wider public access to the treasures and secrets hidden in our archives.

– Posted by Mayu Kanamori

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