As Rei showed in our last post, many Okinawans are part of a movement to stop the base construction at Henoko. While Mayor Inamine lobbied for the cause in Washington DC on May 19, thousands of Okinawans took part in a series of peace marches that have been happening all month.
Such marches have been held annually for 37 years, commemorating those lost at the Battle of Okinawa (which occurred in March 1945), celebrating Okinawan reversion to Japan (1972), and demanding world peace. Marchers gathered from around the island. They marched by U.S. bases and sites of the Battle of Okinawa, even during heavy rain.
Interviews with Okinawans reported in Ryukyu Shimpo reveal how large a role current geopolitics plays in the Okinawan consciousness. Okinawans are very critical of U.S. militarism in the form of military bases and Osprey helicopter deployments, as well as policy decisions made in Tokyo by Prime Minister Abe. Another interesting source for discontent were the remarks of one Tokyo official about the necessity of “comfort girls” in Okinawa that serve U.S. servicemen.
As usual, the study of Okinawa provides us with a unique perspective on international relations, cultural identity, and foreign policy. I hope that when we make our trip to Okinawa we can meet many of these activists.
- Trevor M. Stober
The Gail Project has an amazing opportunity next Friday. Our own Helen Porter (pictured below in Tokyo) will give a short presentation on the Gail Project and its plans for the future (the biggest being A TRIP TO OKINAWA summer 2014), at the UCSC Launch! event. The event will showcase the academic efforts and triumphs of UCSC’s students and faculty, ranging from discoveries in astrophysics to our own unique public history project. We hope to show attendees how the photos of Charles Gail, an army captain and dentist who photographed Okinawan daily life when he was not busy running a military hospital on the island, can be used to create an interactive exhibition that promotes cross-cultural understanding and humanistic dialogue.
Leon Panetta––former Congressman, Clinton aid, and CIA chief––will be speaking at Launch! on whether the US is in “renaissance or decline.” Our project can touch on this theme, as we are exploring the dynamics of American foreign policy in Okinawa and Japan during the postwar years, and its effects on the American service-people and Okinawans who have called the island home. We are honored to have this chance to spread the word about our exciting project to a broader audience, many of them UCSC alumni and staff!
––Trevor M. Stober
Ryukyu Shimpo is a prominent Okinawan newspaper that has been an excellent resource for me. They publish––thank goodness––an online edition in English.
Learning about the effect of military bases on Americans and Okinawans on the island during the 1950s is a cornerstone of our background research for the Gail Project. The bases continue to inspire controversy, and policies of both the US and Japanese government sometimes inflame protest (such as those aimed at US Ambassador Caroline Kennedy on her visit to Okinawa in February of this year).
A recent protest has moved online. 10,000 people––including Okinawans, Americans, and Australians––have signed an online petition to be delivered to President Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to protest a large landfill in Henoko, Okinawa Prefecture, the proposed site for a relocated base from Futenma. The relocation would cost the Japanese government 350 billion yen (about $35 million US). In February, local residents and leaders like Nago Mayor Susumu Inamine openly showed their disapproval for such measures. 2,000 people gathered to protest the Okinawa governor because he had allegedly failed to keep his promise that no new bases would be built on the islands.
Check out Ryukyu Shimpo if you want to unravel some of the complexities behind the contemporary Okinawan-Japanese-American relationship.
(Sources for this post all came from Ryukyu Shimpo)
John Weber, head of the Arts and Sciences Institute at UCSC, commented that Gail was clearly a serious amateur — none of his photos are snapshots. Many of them could even be considered an anthropological study, with the comments Gail wrote on the back. According to Weber, snapshots and amateur photos mainly focus on families and people going on vacation: we tend to photograph ourselves, the people we like, and the places we go. While Gail was technically photographing places he went, he was living and working there, not on vacation, and he was also studying the people and culture while he photographed — a significant distinction. It’s not often you get the the sense that an amateur photographer was truly looking at what he or she shot.
Weber drew parallels between Gail’s work and the photoessays and photojournalism made popular by magazines such as Look and Life. Ten years before World War II, the Farm Security Administration hired photographers such as Roy Stryker, Walker Evans, and Russell Lee in order to garner support for its efforts to improve the living conditions of Southern farmers. The widespread images brought national attention to the trials suffered by those living in rural poverty. It was just the beginning of the swift rise of exposé-style photography. In Weber’s opinion, Gail was “operating almost like a photojournalist without a job.” His work is reminiscent of notable mid-century photojournalists like W. Eugene Smith, who was most well-known for his photoessays documenting the effects of a severe epidemic of mercury poisoning due to industrial activity near Minamata, Japan, and Dorothea Lange, who is famous for her portraits of the victims of the Great Depression. Smith and Lange exemplified the tradition of crusading journalism, and though Gail wasn’t setting out to expose a wrong with his camera, there is still a strong sense that he was attempting to humanize a place that the vast majority of America still thought of as exotic.
During our interview, Weber called my attention to a photo (designated ms0470_pho_1-20-1.png) of an Okinawan boat seen from the rear, so that the plane of the narrow stern is perpendicular to the viewer’s line of sight. The stern’s triangular shape divides the photograph perfectly in half, with the sides of the boat curving symmetrically out from it. Weber pointed out that only the nearest plane — the stern — was in foes, but there was still a considerable amount of light in the image. Gail would have needed to use a fast shutter speed to avoid overexposure and a wide-open aperture to achieve the shallow depth of field. “It was a conscious decision,” Weber said. Gail was extremely aware of what he was doing. Weber opened another photo, designated ms0470_pho_1-40-2.png. “Look at this,” he said, indicating the uneven tones in the sky, which I hadn’t noticed when I’d looked through them earlier. The uneven tones indicated that the film had been unevenly covered in the photo chemistry during the development process, an error with which I could sympathize. Even the most skilled photographers make mistakes; the inconsistency somehow made it feel more as though a real person had created these images.
Did Gail have a camera club at his school? Weber wanted to know. I had to admit I wasn’t sure. It hadn’t occurred to me to ask Geri. Weber mentioned that Gail might have drawn inspiration from Magnum Photos, a photographic cooperative (essentially a club owned by its members) founded in 1947 by Robert Capa whose photographers are famous for covering many historic events throughout the twentieth century. Weber thought Gail also paid close attention to popular photography magazines such as Look (founded 1935) and Life (founded 1936), both of which were known for their political and social photojournalism coverage. Weber drew parallels between Gail’s landscapes and those of Edward Weston, and a photo of an old woman with marriage tattoos on her wrist (ms0470_pho_2-29a.png) and Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother. In the latter case, Weber thought the parallels were likely unintentional, but also thought that if Gail was as serious as he seemed, he most likely knew about Lange’s picture. As for the former, Weber was fairly certain that Gail was consciously drawing on Weston’s style in his own work.
Many of Gail’s portraits place the viewer so that they look up at the subject; Weber told me this was a common angle in the 1940s and -50s. He pointed out that the majority of the photographs aren’t cropped very much; Gail’s just using what’s there in the image. He inquired about Gail’s cameras, and I told him what Geri told me — a Leica in Okinawa, a Hasselblad later (she thought). “Those are both German cameras,” Weber said, sounding impressed. “They were really only used by serious photographers.”
Weber said Gail’s self-proclaimed “best photo” (ms0470_pho_2-40a.png) reminded him of Van Gogh’s drawings and paintings from southern France. Again, Gail may not have been conscious of this similarity, but this parallel shows a certain intuition for artistic concepts. By following established artistic precedents, however unwittingly, Gail repeatedly proved that he really did know what he was doing.
Gail was probably an avid reader of photo magazines, which is how he would know the good photos from the bad when looking through his prints with Geri. The fact that he was a medical officer meant that he could control his own time a lot more, and not have someone constantly looking over his shoulder.
Weber recapped by saying Gail followed a culture of photojournalism, and that he would call him a serious hobbyist — not a professional, but not a casual snapshooter either. He was knowledgeable about the tools of his trade. He may have even been a serious aspiring journalist or artist. American hobbyist culture was largely a male thing, Weber said, citing common mid-century hobbies such as electric trains and woodsheds. He mentioned the group Citizen Scientists, which I’d never heard of before. “They’re largely useless,” he said, “but there’s always that guy who always wanted to be an astronomer, got himself a lot of nice equipment, and now finally gets to help with a big astronomy project.” Gail was like that, a dedicated amateur. And analog photography is a significant investment; unlike digital, it costs money to press the button, advance the film, and print a sheet of paper. Things have changed a lot since Gail’s time, in more ways than one.
"Every day, more photos are taken than in the first one hundred years of photography, and three hundred million of them are uploaded to Facebook," he said, shaking his head. "There’s an incredible amount of photos. It’s unbelievable, just unbelievable."
So, how about those photo magazines? What sort of photographic world did Gail’s work reflect? A major part of what gave popular photography magazines such as Life, Look, and Time their widespread appeal was the idea that photography “enables us to analyze and re-conceptualize our experiences to better understand the layers of reality that lie in between the phenomenon and the idea. In short, photographic inquiry is a means of contemplating the world” (Quan, 9). These magazines could show their readers people, places, and events from all over the world on a regular basis, thus allowing everyday Americans to travel the globe without leaving their living room. The earliest and largest of these magazines, Life, quickly established itself as a dominant source of news mainly thanks to its revolutionary method of telling stories: “[I]ts innovative uses of photography, and its massive diffusion within the upper and middle classes placed it in a unique position to transform modes of vision within the more privileged sectors of the United States” (Vials, 76). Life took the idea that a picture or series of pictures could speak more than a thousand words and used it to transform the American journalism scene into a format that, today, many people can’t imagine living without.
Despite its dearth of words, Life commanded the attention and respect of the vast majority of the nation, which in turn inspired many ordinary photographers to start examining their surroundings more critically. The magazine “grounded its authority on the mimetic quality of the photograph. The credibility of a Life photo-essay resided not in its authors’ overt claims to objectivity, not in its flouting the expertise of its authors, but instead… in the constructed notion that the photograph had the power to transparently represent the real” (Vials, 86). The history of photography has seen two major controversies: whether or not it counted as an art form, and whether or not it qualified as a valid representation of reality, given that, even before digital, photos could be edited, posed, or otherwise faked in some manner. Photo magazines strove to show that photographers didn’t manipulate reality, only conveyed it to others who were unable to be present at that exact instant. “In a transparent photograph, the presence of the photographer is minimal … It strives to convey truth and validity to the viewer that what is depicted naturally happened without being staged by the cameraperson” (Quan, 8). In short, the idea was that what you saw in a photograph was what was really there and what had really happened. Gail’s photographs reflect this mentality, as seen through the captions on the back that mainly describe what he found and how he found it. His photographs could easily become a photoessay for one of the magazines of the time, which shows how avidly he consumed the photojournalistic culture of the day. It’s probably safe to say that he was indeed inspired by both new and established artistic traditions.
During the course of my investigations, I found this quote from Army Air Force soldier James P. Gallagher:
"[C]ameras and photographs were strictly prohibited at stateside Army Air Force operating fields in those days [during the war], and when troops embarked for service abroad the army impounded all cameras. Yet, surprisingly, they were returned to their owners upon arrival overseas, and the AAF made no further objections to an airman’s use of a camera. We even had the Army Photo Service at our disposal. Once a roll of film had been exposed, we got a small drawstring bag from the mail orderly, put in the film and return address slip, and added the equivalent of fifty or sixty cents. In about ten days the prints came back. We could snap almost anything except radar equipment or dead Americans" (Gallagher, xix-xx).
Gallagher was on active duty in the Southwest Pacific as a communications officer in 1943 and, according to the book, hoped one day to put together a scrapbook of his time overseas. Gail may have used the Army Photo Service (or something similar) to develop at least some of his film, but the most interesting part of this revealing quote is that there were very few restrictions on camera usage. It seems likely as well that the rules concerning photography would have been relaxed even further in the days after the war was over, which most likely confirms previously-stated theories that Gail was able to photograph as he pleased. The rarity of collections like Gail’s indicates that very few people took advantage of this liberty, but those that did left behind priceless insights into a frequently overlooked place and time using a medium that had only recently exploded into popularity.
Gallagher, James P. With the Fifth Army Air Force: Photos from the Pacific Theater. JHU Press, 2001.
Garner, Gretchen. “Photography and Society in the 20th Century,” The Focal Encyclopedia of Photography, ed. Michael R. Peres, 2013.
Quan, Roy H. “Photography and the Creation of Meaning.” Art Education, National Art Education Association, 1979.
Vials, Chris. “The Popular Front in the American Century: Life Magazine, Margaret Bourke-White, and Consumer Realism, 1936-1941.” American Periodicals, Ohio State University Press, 2006.
"It would be hard to imagine a technology that had more impact on 20th [sic] century life than photography: the automobile, the airplane, nuclear power, all of these were higher profile than photography, yet in day-to-day terms, photography was truly the most pervasive." (Garner, 1887)
I met with Geri Gail, daughter of Charles Eugene Gail, one morning to try to get to the bottom of some of the mysteries surrounding her father and his time in the American occupation of Okinawa. I already had some background through her visit to the class and an email full of questions I’d sent her in case she needed to do some investigating of her own. She started off by expanding upon some of my original questions, starting with whether or not photography was a common pastime among other members of the American occupation.
According to Geri, probably not a lot of soldiers were carrying cameras, though some may have been assigned to take photographs in an official capacity. Soldiers were getting shipped overseas in a war situation, not going as tourists. As a result, she doubted photography was a common pastime, especially because, according to the professor, photos such as her father’s are a rare find, although at the time of writing, we had no other veterans to survey to determine the veracity of this statement. Did they have a PX (Post Exchange, where Army members on base could buy goods and services) in Okinawa? She said it was early in the occupation, so they may not have. She suspected there were very few cameras in Okinawa overall, and that the Okinawans themselves probably didn’t have cameras.
"How about his film?" I wanted to know. We may not know how Gail got his film, given the remaining mystery regarding the existence of the PX, but I knew film could get expensive, especially in a place where it was a scarce commodity. Geri said her father was an officer, better-paid than the average G.I., and could easily afford film. As to the question of other facilities required to develop and print photographic images, Geri said she highly suspects Gail saved his film and developed it at home, once he was out of the army. He had a photo lab attached to the garage off the side of the house. She remembered how he developed at least some of the black and white film in their kitchen sink, and commented how she can still taste the smell of developer when she thinks about his work. He arranged and processed his enlargements in a large laundry tub in the driveway. Geri mentioned she used to spend hours watching her father work; developing the complete series of his Okinawa photos most likely took him years.
After that, the talk turned to cameras. I already knew that the Eastman Kodak Brownie, first made available in 1900, was the first camera designed for mass consumption, which helped photography explode as a popular art form. Geri mentioned that everyone’s general settling down in the 1950s after the war to document their families was the main cause of the “blossoming of amateur photography.” As for Gail himself, Geri thought he had a Leica camera in Okinawa. His army program delayed his enlistment in World War II, but he reenlisted later and was called up for the Korean War, around which time he used a Hasselblad, both of which were high-end cameras that would appeal to someone who was more than just a casual photographer.
We got a little more personal after that as Geri told me about her father’s background as an artist. According to her, he developed his interest in photography thanks to an outbreak of myocarditis (a disease I’d never heard of before; I looked it up when I went home later, and discovered it was an inflammation of heart tissue most often caused by viruses). At age sixteen, he suffered a heart attack and was bedridden for six months, although he got off more easily than one of his friends, who died. Photography was an easy, low-stress way to recover his health and strength. Later in life, he never went to bars, drank, or smoked; he was convinced he’d be healthy and strong, so he became an early advocate of jogging and hiking, something no one did at the time. It was just a part of his lifestyle to hike around with his camera while most of the rest of the military guys were relaxing on base, which was how he got most of his photos. Unsurprisingly (since she was just a child at the time), she didn’t know what his hours were while he was overseas. Since he wasn’t a surgeon, but a general dentist, she suspected that he worked regular clinical hours at the base and then had evenings and weekends on leave to wander. She doubted if any of his fellow army officers saw these pictures, which makes sense if he only developed them once he was stateside, but which again raises the questions of who photographed, and who didn’t, and why.
What about his artistic training? His inspirations? Geri said he was strongly influenced by Life magazine and the idea of “photos telling a story.” He drew great inspiration from Ansel Adams and Edward Weston, which showed that he was aware that he was developing a distinctive style. He was once the “opening act,” as it were, for Ansel Adams at a Sierra Club slideshow presentation. His photos told stories about people; they’re much more than simply snapping travel shots. He was fascinated by the people of Okinawa, from the tattoos on the women to the men selling things in the shops to the grandmothers with the children. He had a strong interest in composition and balance, and although he mostly taught himself how to use a camera, he did have some formal art training — he had previously taken some sketching classes, and often made sketches from his photos. He was a talented artist from the very beginning — at eight years old, he made a couple of oil paintings that Geri still has in her house today. This training probably helped him develop his eye for balance that would later show up in his photos.
Geri talked about how her father tried to capture things people don’t normally see. Most of his later work was for the Sierra Club — things like aphids giving birth and elusive little blue butterflies. She remembered sitting for hours while he went crawling around on his hands and knees trying to catch one of his “blues,” as she called them. He also took several pictures of egrets flying out of the water, which is a notable feat because, though it’s easy to do today with a digital camera, it was much more difficult with film. This shows his prowess as a photographer, something many people likely didn’t have in the days when popular photography was just taking off.
Gail took some of the first color photographs, but tended to prefer using black and white (except, of course, for the “blues”). His goal was to produce something artistic, not to simply document daily life. He hung many of his photos up in his office. Geri recalled that he had a large frame with a board that slid out to change the photos. This allowed him to display a different series on a roughly monthly basis. He also displayed many slideshows for the Unitarian Church in La Cuñada, where they lived. Geri said her mom’s budget was about $500 a month to feed and clothe everyone; her dad’s budget, for his photographic toys only, was “money is no object.” He would occasionally go off for about three months to the Alaskan wilderness to photograph. This was definitely a man who was dedicated to his hobby. And I would argue that through his dedication, he did something incredibly meaningful.
Geri talked about how he photographed from a distance, using a telephoto lens, so that his subjects were unaware of his presence. As a result, he never interacted with any of the people in his Okinawa photographs, except for one, which Geri described in an email: “He [had] one communication … with the old woman who was carrying a basket on her head recorded on the back of his picture… that after talking to her, he got her to smile.” She talked about his later coverage of the annual Monterey Jazz Festival. This allowed him to observe others unposed, and gave him the best expressions as a result. He knew what he was looking for in an image; he wasn’t simply shooting thoughtlessly.
Geri concluded my interview by posing the question: What are we going to do with all of these old photos? How will we preserve them? She cited an aunt who lives in Hilo, Hawaii, for whom she is the last living relative. Among the aunt’s old photographs is a picture of an unknown elderly woman with Eleanor Roosevelt standing by her bedside. There is no explanation. Many local historical societies might be interested, but it’s unlikely that an institution as powerful as, say, the Smithsonian would be interested in old photographs of everyday occurrences, even ones involving Eleanor Roosevelt. How many collections like Charles Gail’s are out there, sitting in a box in someone’s attic? Will we find them before they fade irrevocably and some small piece of history is lost forever?