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The Center for East Asian Studies at the University of Chicago (CEAS) serves as an interdisciplinary nexus and clearinghouse for East Asian studies and an important resource for faculty and students across the University. CEAS supports academic activities, research, outreach, and public events to promote greater understanding of China, Japan and Korea. CEAS has been designated a Title VI National Resource Center by the U.S. Department of Education.
The Business of Photography in Occupied Okinawa
Gerald Figal, Professor of History, Vanderbilt University
At the time of the October 10, 1944 air raid of Naha, there had been a flourishing commercial photography industry in Okinawa’s prefectural capital, with two dozen portrait studios operating throughout the city. That American air raid wiped out more than half of them; the subsequent land battle the following spring eliminated the rest. The reestablishment of studios and photo services began soon after the end of war, but under the very different and challenging circumstances of postwar deprivation and foreign occupation. The American presence was double-edged. While it offered Okinawans access to cutting-edge photographic gear, technical training, photo lab and field assistant jobs, and a market among military personnel for local purveyors of cameras and photo services, it did so under terms set by U.S. authorities outside of normal market conditions and cut off from transformative developments in photography taking place concurrently in mainland Japan. Dr. Gerald Figal, Professor of History and Asian Studies, Vanderbilt University, looks at both edges of this situation from the years immediately after war’s end until the years just before the Reversion of Okinawa to Japan in 1972. On the one hand, one can appreciate the initiative, perseverance, and cunning by which Okinawans, trying to revive commercial photography businesses as well as their own private photographic practices, established formal and informal relations with US base personnel early in the Occupation. On the other hand, one can see revealed in the details of certain business arrangements the asymmetry of those relations and deeper American interests. Professor Figal reads a seemingly minor episode in the history of these conflicted relations—a complaint lodged by an Okinawan photography business group against U.S. authorities over the bidding for an on-base photo services contract— as an ominous harbinger of the broader fate of post-Reversion Okinawa caught between Washington and Tokyo.
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