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Tsu Family Land - Asada Masashi's Photography
Written by Takeshi HIRATA   
Published: September 14 2010

fig. 1 Courtesy of the artist

fig. 2 "Rugby", courtesy of the artist

fig. 3 View from the exhibition at Mie Prefectural Art Museum, 2010, courtesy of the artist

fig. 4 View from the exhibition at Mie Prefectural Art Museum, 2010, courtesy of the artist

fig. 5 View from the exhibition at Mie Prefectural Art Museum, 2010, courtesy of the artist

fig. 6 View from the exhibition at Mie Prefectural Art Museum, 2010, courtesy of the artist

fig. 7 "Motorboat race", courtesy of the artist

This was a solo exhibition of Masashi Asada, winner of a prize in the 34th Ihei Kimura Photographic Award for his photos entitled “The Asada Family” (2008, Akaaka Art Publishing Inc.). The exhibition was held at the Mie Prefectural Art Museum located in Asada’s home town. “The Asada Family” series are commemorative photos of the Asada family taken using a camera with a self- timer function. In these photos, the parents and brothers in the family play roles covering a wide range of occupations, such as a firefighter, a yakuza gang member, a thief, a high-school student, a ramen shop manager and a rock band member. After “The Asada Family” was published, the number of people in the Asada family increased to six because of the marriage of Asada’s elder brother and the birth of his baby. “The Asada Family” series continues even now. The latest photo book named “NEW LIFE” (2010, Akaaka Art Publishing Inc.) has been edited just like a family photo album, and contributes to representing the theme of “family” more clearly than his previous work, “The Asada Family”.

The theme running through this exhibition, “Tsu Family Land”, was also the commemoration of “family”. The venue was designed with the concept of creating an amusement space that would make viewers feel as if they were in a theme park. In the exhibition hall, there were not only Masashi Asada’s photographic works, but also other types of creations made by Asada’s family members, including a work by his elder brother, Yukihiro, using a character named “りっく”, (Rikku), which was designed by Yukihiro himself; a picture of a white stork which was drawn by his father, Akira, and pressed flowers made by his mother, Junko. The viewers of “Tsu Family Land” would experience this show not as an exhibition in which they view “artistic photos”, but rather as a “commemorative” exhibition that made them remember that they visited something like an amusement park.

You would realize this particularly in the section entitled the “History of The Asada Family”. As can be seen in the title, in this corner we encounter the Asada family photo album showing the history of the family. The album included several content formats, including chronological tables and photos. For example, there were black-and-white pictures of “The Asada Family” series which were taken in the early years, and the New Year greeting cards made by Asada’s father using photos of his two sons.*1 This section showed us the archived photos (the photo album) in which the memories of and the occurrences in the standard family (not great historical figures) were historicized.

What then does a “family photo” mean? “Why do people place so much value on past memories of their families?”*2 In the West, family pictures have been taken as symbols of family ties or images of a perfect family based on “Conversation Piece”, one of the traditional genres of drawings created on the subject of family.*3 On the other hand, most Japanese-style paintings have not been drawn with the theme of representing or commemorating family. Many of them have taken the form of portraits of single persons.

Since the Meiji era, the pratice of photography has become common due to the increasing number of photo studios. Also, during the Taisho era, the range of the use of photos gradually broadened because of various trends, such as those of publishing photographs of imperial family, the contribution of family photos to women’s magazines, and also the increase in sightseeing. In our time, taking family photographs is considered as one of the main genres of photography. It is common practice for us to record our families’ various commemorations, or important days, ranging from special anniversaries, such as sightseeing, school events, marriages and childbirth, to daily occurrences. Most families also often create their own family photo albums to visualize and historicize their history. In other words, “family pictures” now exist as a media used to visualize, share, and confirm commemorations of families. However, “family photos” are not deemed to be records of “commemorations” by people outside the family. This is due to the fact that “family pictures would not be able to fullfil their essential role if they are considered outside of the context regarding the family involved”.*4 Commemorative photos of an unacquainted family show us only “commemorations” which we (outsiders) cannot share. Thus, “commemorative pictures” are considered to be meaningful only among people who can share them.

How should we then classify Masashi Asada’s pictures? Are they “commemorative photos” which are difficult for us, the viewers, to share? This is probably not the case. Compared to other so-called “commemorative pictures”, Asada’s photos were taken in an extremely ‘conscious’ manner. Although his pictures were taken in the same form as that of “commemorative photos”, most of their objects (Asada’s families) do not face the camera. Rather, his pictures seem to be still photographs of scenes from movies or TV dramas. In other words, Asada’s photos establish themselves as “commemorative pictures” which cannot be grouped into the genre of family photos within their specific contexts, while they were created by referring to formats of family pictures and commemorative photos.

Henceforth, “family photos” have received little attention in the history of photography. Asada creates pictures with which a number of viewers associate their experiences of having taken or having been the subjects of photographs, by using not artistic pictures, but family photos and by applying them to his works. The original purpose of taking/having pictures taken of yourself would be commemorating and recording familiar people or places forever. In the past, people went to photo studios to ask them for taking pictures of their children and family. Photography was an act of visualizing commemorations and at the same time photo studios were considered as places to be used to record commemorations.

Just as the photographic media has changed, the forms of “family” which produce “family albums” have also been transformed. Under such circumstances of the day, Asada makes viewers rediscover one of the roles of photography – “commemorating”. And at the same time this exhibition would be recorded within viewers’ minds – “albums” – as a photo exhibition in which their experiences of viewing the pictures were “commemorated”, since the venue of this exhibition was created with the concept of making viewers feel as if they were in a theme park.
(Translated by Nozomi Nakayama)

Pictures which Japanese people use in New Year’s greeting cards may be able to be considered “Vernacular (Indigenous) Photographs” as advocated by the photographic historian, Geoffrey Batchen, who has been studying the outer edges of photography. In Japan, it is common practice to send New Year greeting cards, or nengajo, created using family pictures, at the beginning of the year. This kind of form of “communication” which combines “commemoration” with New Year celebrations may be one of the ingenious traditions of Japan.
Koji Taki, “Kazoku-no-shozo (portraitof family)”, edited by Chizuko Ueno, et al., “Series Transfigured family I, Social history of family”, Iwanami Shoten, 1991, p.135
Chiaki Takahashi, “"Kazoku-shashin" no iso (Phase of "Family photograph")”, “Bigaku Geijutsu-gaku (Esthetic and Art Study)” vol.18, 2002, p.80
Koji Taki, “Kazoku-no-shozo (portraitof family)”, edited by Chizuko Ueno, et al., “Series Transfigured family I, Social history of family”, Iwanami Shoten, 1991, p.125
Last Updated on October 09 2016

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