Visual collaboration in the cemetery

There is a photograph kept in the Broome Museum of a group of Japanese men dressed in formal looking clothes (white, much like the pearling masters) with one boy and a a man dressed like a Japanese Buddhist priest in front of Takazo (Tomasi) Nishioka’s grave. The caption on the photograph reads:

Japanese Men at Cemetery on eve of annual Bon Matsuri Festival. Boy standing in front of Yasukichi Murakami. Grave of T. Nishioka died 9/03/1901.

Murakami is the only one identified in this photograph, reminding me that he is one of the very few among thousands of Japanese who had been in Broome to have left his mark in history as an individual remembered by name. Someone in the community, perhaps many years after the war, remembered and identified him in this photograph.

I showed a copy of this photograph to Tomoko Yamada, a Japanese fiber and millinery artist who recently migrated from Osaka to Broome to live with her partner, and requested her collaboration. Together during the Shinju Festival this year, Tomoko and I will create a photograph at the Japanese Cemetery. I asked her to bring with herself, four other women and a girl of her choice and then to let me know the processes of the choice of people she brings to take part in this collaboration. They need not be Japanese necessarily. I requested women – simply because there are only men in this original photo. We will put up a tripod and I will stand in place of Murakami. She will be whoever she would like to be.

Tomoko noticed from the photograph and its caption that the men were dressed formally because of Bon. Bon in Japan is an annual celebration during the full moon in August when spirits of the dead is said to return to this world. People return to their homelands, visit their ancestral graves and enjoy festivities with food, sake and dance. The annual Shinju Festival (Matsuri) in Broome have their origins in Bon, when the Japanese in town held festivities at Broome’s Japanese Cemetery.

Artist Tomoko Yamada at her home. Photograph by Mayu Kanamori

– 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

Don’t make eye contact (with the heathen Asiatics)

Aunty Pearl Hamaguchi showed me three beautiful studio portraits of her mother Mary Barbara Lynott, photographed by Murakami. Mary Barbara Lynott was a Stolen Generation, taken to Beagle Bay Catholic Mission from Ruby Plains Station in East Kimberley , then sent to Broome to work as a servant girl for pearling masters.

“…. I used to love to hear her stories of her walks every Sunday after Mass to China Town. That was the only time they were allowed. So mother had all these photographs. Oh, about six of them I think there was all together. Mama, you got these lovely portraits. How did you possibly, you know, you were just a poor servant girl. Oh, no, no, no, she said. When us girls would walk down to China Town, with strict instructions from nuns, not to make eye contact with the heathen Asiatics, We’d pass Murakami’s photography shop. And he’d be waiting for mum. Barbara, Barbara, Eva. Mother’s very good friend Aunty Eva was beautiful woman as well. And can you imagine them in the finery in the 1930s. Lovely hat, lovely white dress with white stockings and whatever. Little handkerchief and five shillings or whatever they had to spend. He would look out for her. He would look out for these convent girls, you know. Barbara, please sit for me. I want to take your portrait. I want to take your portrait. Oh, I said. What did he look like? Oh, she said, he was very good-looking. And I’m thinking, but mother, why didn’t you… (laugh). She said I think he had a crush on me. That was my mother’s story….” – Pearl Hamaguchi

Mary Barbara Lynott photographed by Yasukichi Murakami

– Posted by Mayu Kanamori

Entrance Point

Sitting on a rock at Entrance Point with my (honorary) sister seem like we always had and always would be sitting together at this place.

Lucy tells me about her three jobs in Indigenous education. I tell Lucy about my projects, which brought me back to Broome again. About my search for Murakami and about passing on my skills and stories of Broome’s Elders to the younger people in Broome You Are Here. They are separate projects, but are related in my mind.

Entrance Point is where Murakami is said to have tried unsuccessfully to start a cultured pearl business as early as 1922 with his business partner Ansell Gregory. It is said that their scheme was stopped by the authorities in response to fears that it would drive the prices of natural pearls down.

There is a road nearby named after him. Murakami Road is a dead-end road where Broome’s current cultured pearl shell hatchery is serviced.

Lucy knows that I am back in Broome because of what happened between us over a decade ago with The Heart of the Journey.

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– Posted by Mayu Kanamori

Talking with Senpai (s) (先輩)

For sometime now, it has been customary for me to visit the Japanese Cemetery in Broome almost immediately after my arrival. I do not feel settled into the community and feel superstitious about starting a project here until I pay my respects to my senpai(s) (先輩), at the cemetery.

When I walk through the gates, I feel the burden on my shoulders lift. Walking down the central pathway leading to the back of the cemetery adjacent to the Catholic Cemetery, I find myself talking with the dead.

I am back again, I let them know, and ask them how things have been since my last visit.

When I near the injured tombstone, vandalized only couple of years ago, I feel a sharp pain to see the once handsome tombstone so violently reduced to third of its original size. I say hello, let him know that I am back, and assure him I have a photograph of his tombstone before the attack.

It does not matter after all: everyone’s tombstones weather and disappear eventually. It is beautiful that it disappears and that once we are forgotten, we are finally free.

I know this.

But I am a photographer.

Like Murakami.

I cannot stop documenting, trying to preserve, trying to capture a moment in the flow of time. Something about my wish to document for posterity feels very human and a very sad part of being human at that.

In the north east section of the cemetery are the newer burials. I spend more time in this corner, letting each person know that I am back. I spend most of the time by Uncle Hama’s grave. I remember our first meeting, when he told me he was disgusted by young Japanese women these days, dying and perming their naturally jet black straight hair. A the time my hair was permed and was dyed slightly brown. I remember being embarrassed.

No one is in the cemetery other than couple of tourists a good twenty meters away. There is a gentle afternoon breeze. Out loud, I let Uncle Hama know I am back and explain to him my two reasons for being back.

I am back in Broome.

I am here to work with young people, passing on my skills as a photographer and story-teller as part of a project called Broome: You Are Here.

I am here to find about my photographic senpai (先輩), Yasuskichi Murakami as part of a project called 3 Japanese Photographers.

As I leave the cemetery, I let everyone there know that I will be back again.

Detail, Uncle Hama’s grave, Japanese Cemetery, Broome, West Australia Photo: 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