Hamish Campbell: The Taisho Photographer´s House
Head On Photo Festival 07 - 29 May 2016

 

The Taisho Photographer´s House

Hidden atop a hill, deep in a bamboo grove in northern Japan lies a house full of history.

Japan is full of abandoned residences, but very few offer us quite the same glimpse into the lives of its former residents as this one. Constructed some time during the Taisho era (1912-1926) and abandoned in the late 70s or early 80s, several generations of family lived here (likely the Matsunobu family based on documents remaining on the property), and one of these people was a photographer.

I know this because tucked away on the second floor of the house behind a rotting door is a dark room, and littered amongst the debris resulting from years of nature´s ingress were over 200 glass plate negatives.

These negatives afford us a rare glimpse into the life of the photographer, his friends and family. We see the house as its being constructed. We see a posed portrait from the photographer´s wedding. We see local neighbours and school children. We see him reading a newspaper with a pet macaque perched on his shoulder.

Many of these photos were taken in and around the property itself, which is now half collapsed and increasingly consumed by the encroaching bamboo.

In this exhibition I present my own photography of this peaceful small parcel of land as it exists today, alongside images taken by the Taisho Photographer, as well as images attempting to bridge the gap between these two eras.

While some may find the images ghostly or confronting due to the level of decay, I find some comfort in knowing that a house which served for so many years as a bustling family nexus is now at rest amongst the quiet and peaceful natural surrounds, which are slowly and gently reclaiming it.

Hamish Campbell 2016

Exhibition was opened on Sunday 8th May, with guest speaker Patrick O´Carrigan, Urban Designer, Fellow of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects and Consultant to The Heritage Office of NSW.

 
 

"Hamish Campbell is a photographer with an exacting eye for detail and rigorous exploration of ideas. A serious technician, his prints are both didactic and highly nuanced - the shadows, the palimpsest, the tonal play.
In continuing his exploration of abandoned places in contemporary Japan, Hamish has now moved beyond merely recording the past through the current viewfinder. In this exhibition, through the serendipitous finding of ancient glass plates, he has fused the past and present. In this his approach is reminiscent of the exploration of Erich Consemuller at the Bauhaus, 1926 such as Mechanical fantasy 1 and 2.
In these hand-forged images, we confront youthful endeavour and ancient traditions. Our mind is drawn into the private realm of a long departed family man, his young bride, the children, pets and even the workers and builders. We see the self in reflection, where only shadows are found now.
Over time entropy and decay cannot halt the march of bamboo. Nonetheless, as a documentary exercise, Hamish has now secured for these once treasured plates, a permanence beyond the artefact.

As an architect, I am drawn to the curious conjunction of the c.1922 design - part traditional and tatamied single storey + part Euro/Germanic decorative upper level. This clash contrives to elevate the modern above the bund, perhaps a manifestation of the democratic ambitions of the Taisho era in post WWI Japan.
These young [male] workers were entitled to vote for the first time in 1926. Contrast this innocence with the posture of the Photographer here, assured in his elan, adept at using advanced technologies, comfortable in his gaze."

Patrick O´Carrigan FRAIA Architect April 2016
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