Each year, the recipients of the 20th Century Japan Research Awards visit the University of Maryland to use the materials in the Gordon W. Prange Collection. They often spend a week or more on campus. They are interviewed at the end of their stay about their research experience.
One of the two recipients of the award for 2017-2018 is Emily Cole, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Oregon. Her research topic is “Life in the Ruins: Photography during the Allied Occupation of Japan, 1945-1952.” She is currently working on her dissertation.
How did you learn about the research award, and why did you apply for it?
I first learned about the award through the HNET listserv. I have wanted to visit the Prange Collection since my first year of graduate school when I started researching Occupation-era Japanese photography, so I was excited to apply for the award once I finished my comprehensive exams.
What motivated you to focus on this research topic?
I stumbled into the world of postwar Japanese photography when I came across some images by photojournalist Domon Ken, taken during the Occupation period. I am visually oriented, and his photos really brought home to me the kasutori (“days in the dregs”) nature of occupied society.
My master’s thesis covered 1945 to 1970. I decided to focus solely on the Occupation period simply because it is virtually ignored in scholarship on postwar photography. Studies generally begin in 1950, when Domon began his realism movement. And yet, the five years preceding that are such a critical time, especially in understanding the Occupation’s impact on Japanese visual culture and Japanese cultural identity.
Which material in the Prange Collection left the biggest impression on you?
What really struck me in looking through not only photography magazines, but other periodicals such as weekly news periodicals and kasutori magazines, was the plethora of photographs of women. Many of the articles in the photography magazines were on how to photograph “beautiful women,” and the vast majority of the covers for titles such as Asahi Graph and Mainichi Graph featured women, even if the women on the cover had nothing to do with the contents of the magazine.
Before visiting the Prange collection, I had intended to focus my dissertation around urban street photography. However, given the lack of street photos, and considering the sheer number of photographs of women, I think I might have to reframe my study! Clearly, photographing women was a major trend in photography during this time. Considering most photographers were men, it makes me question what this dynamic says about Japanese identity more broadly, as well as gender identity.
How would you describe the research experience at the University of Maryland Libraries? Do you have any suggestions for fellow researchers using the collection?
I had an excellent experience at the University of Maryland. I am especially grateful to Kana, Yukako, and Amy for all the help they provided during my stay. The library staff were very friendly as well, and remained calm each time I sent a rather lengthy request for more documents.
I found it helpful to submit a few requests for materials before I arrived at the collection, to use my short time here more efficiently. I also found it helpful to continue to refer to the collection holdings, found on the Prange Collection website, throughout my stay.