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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References: Yasukichi Murakami – Through a Distant Lens

Yasukichi Murakami

Bain, M. (1982). Full Fathom Five. 1st ed. Perth: Artlook Books.

Beaumont, J., O’Brien, I. and Trinca, M. (2008). Under suspicion. 1st ed. Canberra, A.C.T.: National Museum of Australia Press.

Caudle, R. (1979). Caudle, Rex Oral History Transcript. [Manuscript] NTRS 226 TS  26. 1979. Northern Territory Archives Service, Darwin, NT, Australia.

City of Darwin, (2001). A Secondary School Resource on the Bombing of Darwin. Darwin: Federation Frontline, pp.54 – 55.

Hamaguchi, P. (2013). Interview with Pearl Hamaguchi. Broome.

Jones, N. (2002). Number Two Home: A story of Japanese Pioneers in Australia 1st ed. Fremantle, W.A.: Fremantle Arts Centre Press.

Kaino, L. (2011). ˜Broome culture” and its historical links to the Japanese in the pearling industry. Continuum, 25(4), pp.479–490.

Kaino, L. (2013). On-Board train Australia: Some contest of the works of Kanamori and Murakami. Zeistschrift fur Australierstudien, (Issue 27), pp.pp 105 – 125.

Kilgariff, F. and Carment, D. et al (2008). MURAKAMI, YASUKICHI (1880-1944). In: Northern Territory Dictionary of Biographies, 2nd ed. Darwin: Charles Darwin University Press.

Lance, K. (2004). Redbill: From Pearls to Peace – Life in Times of A Remarkable Lugger 1st ed. North Fremantle: Fremantle Arts Centre Press.

Minami, Y. (2013). Interview with Yasuko Pearl Murakami Minami. Tanami.

Murakami Shigeno Theresa (and Yasukichi). (2014). [Manuscripts, letters, historical documents. Electronic document] A367 – c68988 National Archives of Australia. Canberra.

Murakami, J. (Dec 2011, Aug 2012 and Feb 2013). Interviews with Joseph Murakami. Tsunashima.

Murakami, J. (April 2012 and April 2013). Interviews with Julie Murakami. Darwin.

Murakami, K. (1979). Kathleen Murakami Oral History Transcript. [Manuscript] NTRS 226 TS  95. Northern Territory Archives Service. Darwin.

Murakami, P. (1979). Peter Murakami Oral History Transcript. [Manuscript] NTRS 226 TS 96 Northern Territory Archives Service. Darwin.

Murakami, Y. (1926). Application for Letters Patent for an invention, Improved diving dress. [Manuscript and diagrams] A627 – 4150944 National Archives of Australia. Canberra.

Murakami, Y. (1926). Application for Letters Patent for an invention, Improved diving dress. [Documents and diagrams. Electronic document] A267 – 1525/1926 National Archives of Australia , Canberra.

Murakami, Y. (1926). Application for Letters Patent for an invention, Improvements in diving dress. [Manuscript and diagrams] A627 – 4215206  National Archives of Australia. Canberra.

Murakami, Y. (1926-7). Application for Letters Patent for an invention, Improved diving dress [Manuscript and diagrams] A627 – 4216044 National Archives of Australia. Canberra.

Murakami, Y. (1927). Application for Letters Patent for an invention, Improvements in and relating to diving dresses. [Manuscript and diagrams] A627 – 4215757 National Archives of Australia. Canberra.

Murakami, Y. (circa 1988 – 1944). Handwritten text on back of original photographic prints, various. [Photographic prints, back].

Nagata, Y. (1996). Unwanted Aliens: Japanese Internment in Australia During WWII. 1st ed. St. Lucia, Qld.: University of Queensland Press.

No 10 of 1918, Yasukichi Murakami [bankruptcy]. (1918). [Manuscripts, transcripts, letters, ledgers. Electronic document] PP92/1 – 12038022 Australian National Archives . Perth.

Norman, J. (May 2013). Interview with John Norman. Broome.

Prisoner of War/Internee: Murakami, Yasukichi; Date of birth – 19 December 1880; Nationality – Japanese. (n.d.). [Electronic document] MP1103/1 DJ18100 National Archives of Australia. Canberra.

Prisoner of War/Internee; Murakami, Yasukichi; Year of birth – 1880; Nationality – Japanese. (n.d.).[Electronic document] MP1103/2 DJ18100 National Archives of Australia. Canberra.

Sack, E. (1979). Eve Sack Oral History Transcript. [Manuscript] NTRS 226 TS 114 Northern Territory Archives Service. Darwin.

Scott, T. (1979). Thomas Connor Scott Oral History Transcript. [Manuscript] NTRS 226 TS 616 Northern Territory Archives Service. Darwin.

Shigematsu, S. (2007). Research Note on Pearling and Japanese Contribution to Local Society in early 20th century Australia. The Otemon Journal of Australian Studies, 33, pp.91- 100

Sissons, D. (2014). Murakami, Yasukichi (1880 – 1944). In: Australian Dictionary of Biographies, 18th ed. [online] Carlton: Melbourne University Press.

Photography

Barthes, R. (1981). Camera Lucida. 1st ed. New York: Hill and Wang.

McAuley, G. (2008). Photography and Live Performance: Introduction. Still / Moving: Photography and Live Performance, About Performance, No 8, pp.7-13.

Benjamin, Walter (1936). 1999.  The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. Illuminations. London: Random House

Nietzsche, F. (1872).  1995. The Birth of Tragedy. New York: Dover Publications.

Ritchin, F. (2009). After Photography. 1st ed. New York: W.W. Norton.

Sontag, S. (1977). On Photography. 1979. Middlesex: Penguin Books.

Photographs used in the production of Yasukichi Murakami – Through a Distant Lens are a courtesy of:

Australian War Memorial – ID 052384 & 052460 Photo by James Tait, Tatura Victoria

Bielby, Margo Photographic Archive

Broome Historical Society of Joseph Kisaburo Murakami Photographic Archives

Darwin Rondalla Archives

Gruchy, Mic Photography and Archives

Hamaguchi, Pearl Family Archives

Hang, Ted and Eunice Family Archives

Jones, Noreen Photographic Collection of Mise & Yamamoto Photographic Archives

Kanamori, Mayu Photography and Archives

Lance, Kate Photographic Collection

Murakami, Joseph Kisaburo Family Archives

Murakami, Julie Family Archives

Murakami, Yasuko Pearl Family Archives

National Archives of Australia –  A446  – 7648980 Kathleen Murakami

National Museum of Australia –  Book cover of Under Suspicion: Citizenship and Internment in Australia during the Second World War,  ISBN 9781876944605 

Northern Territory Library – Commemoration PH0200/0380 Mayse Young Collection; Cavenagh Street in the 1930’s / V. Fletcher, Harold Snell Collection; Bi-plane PH0282/0039 Unknown Collection; Rally PH0283/0012 Bill Allcorn Collection; Group PH0323/0014 D. Smith Collection; Float in street parade, Darwin circa late 1930s PH0340/0038 Jarvis Collection; Old Town Hall on Smith Street PH0386/0150 Bill Littlejohn Collection; Afternoon drink PH0444/0006 Bill & Betty Eacott Collection; Couple PH0375/0008 Marella Collection; The Residency PH0223/0005 J. Towers Collection; Serviceman PH0285/0053 Photo by Y. Murakami, Frank Blackwell Collection; and Divers on pearling lugger D36 PH0238/0174 Peter Spillett Collection

Other photographs from Northern Territory Library duplicate and supplied from Murakami family archives directly – Five men and a lady sitting in a car PH0096/0026 Fay Kilgariff Collection; Dampier Hotel PH0096/0024 Fay Kilgariff Collection; Mrs Theresa Murakami and Mr Yasukichi Murakami PH0096/0020 Fay Kilgariff Collection; Family PH0096/0019 Fay Kilgariff Collection; Man sitting in drivers seat of a car PH0096/0025 Fay Kilgariff Collection;  and A Japanese woman in Japanese dress PH0096/0017 Fay Kilgariff Collection.

Tsuda, Mutsumi Photography, Photographic Collection and Archives

Puertollano / Masuda, Cauline Family Archives

Sisters of St John of God Photographic Collection of Jones, Noreen Photographic Collection of Mise & Yamamoto Photographic Archives

All appropriate documents and photographs found for the research pertaining to Yasukichi Murakami – Through a Distant Lens, used or other wise in the final production have been donated to Julie Murakami (Yasukichi’s great grand daughter / Murakami family historian) and Broome Historical Society / Museum.

– Posted by Mayu Kanamori

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

The Family Photo Album

Julie Murakami shared her family album she had inherited from her great-uncle Peter Sakichi Murakami. When he passed away, Julie said to her aunty, “Please don’t throw away the photos.” And so the family photo album was entrusted to her, and Yasukichi Murakami’s photographs of his wife and children survived another generation.

Julie allowed me to copy photograph these precious family photographs for this project. There was a photograph of Yasukichi’s wife Theresa sitting on a cart with their oldest daughter Kathleen Masuko Murakami, Julie’s grandmother. As I looked through the viewfinder onto this photograph to photograph it, I intuitively knew the exact spot Yasukichi had focused on – the eyes of young Kathleen. I too focused on her eyes, and she was returning my gaze. Or was it Yasukichi’s gaze? Through the viewfinder, for a moment, I thought was Yasukichi. Or was it Yasukichi’s ghost photographing through me?

Theresa Shigeno & Kathleen Masuko Murakami in Broome, Western Australia circa 1920. Photo by Yasukichi Murakami. Courtesy of Julie Murakami.

-Posted by Mayu Kanamori

Yu’s Chinese door

For the last four weeks I have lived in Sarah and Peter Yu’s home. Whilst being away from home, battling out my days chasing Murakami, fighting self-doubt, wondering if this project is getting anywhere, Peter and Sarah have been my family. They have not only given me a bed and a desk to write my blogs from, but fed me polyethnic Broome food (Asia meets saltwater county – such as fresh white fleshed salmon fishcakes with bok choy, mushroom soy and chili mud crabs) and kept me feeling loved throughout. In a very Yu family style, their dinner table has been full of people – family, friends and visitors from all over the world. People of all colors, shades, hues, saturations, foregrounds and backgrounds occupy their outdoor dining area with a large dining table.

Wondering how best to photograph my hosts, I was browsing through the Yamamoto Collection of photographs, donated in 1999 to Noreen Jones by Noriko Yamamoto. I decided it would make sense that I asked Sarah and Peter to pose for me much like some of the portraits from this collection in front of their Chinese doors which separate their private quarters from their outdoor dining and entertainment area. These doors Sarah found in Perth speak the of the Chinese side of Peter’s heritage – the other side being of Yawuru people of Broome. Sarah was born in New Castle, NSW and of English decent, met Peter in whilst working in Kunanurra thirty years ago, and never left the Kimberley since.

Yasukichi Murakami’s portrait work from the Nishioka Emporium /Photographic studio showed how many Japanese married couples were photographed in Broome in the early 1900’s – Japanese people mostly married each other. In early 2000’s, however married couples are no longer of the same ethic origin, especially in Broome.

Sarah and Peter Yu in traditional studio portrait style pose in front of their Chinese door. Photo 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