from You Saw Nothing: Sight, Digital Video, Post-3.11 Japan

We have discussed the politics of knowledge and representation in ethnography. These ethnographers’ critical approaches to representation through writing share concerns with the use of a camera as a mode of representation employed by the artist-researcher. The power of the camera has been long associated with an abusive characteristic of the power of objectification over the objectified. We have seen Didi-Huberman’s argument on the role of the camera in creating a representation of hysteria as such an example. In this auto- ethnographic examination, however, the artist-researcher relinquishes her position behind the camera and places herself in front of the lens, undermining the unequal power relationship. The auto-ethnographer changes position, and this reversal is reflected in a change in the language of representation from artist-researcher to I and me. I relinquish being behind the camera and place myself in front of the lens in order to undermine the unequal power relationship.

This relinquishment of the position behind the camera is aligned with her positionality as a mainland Japanese person in the auto-ethnographic site of Okinawa: an ex-coloniser and a beneficiary of national security. The subversiveness of the relinquishment functions as a strategy against the dominant designations of power in the production of knowledge and representation and the social inequality. It is the artist-researcher’s own way of mounting an aesthetic response to “the broader structural and cultural factors that perpetuate systems of inequality” that Pacheco-Vega and Parizeau refer to in their doubly engaged ethnography.

On the politics of otherness in ethnographic representation, Catherine Russell states that “criticism needs to turn to ethnography as a discourse of othering”.* She goes on to say that “The uncanniness of the Other in representation is the knowledge of its unknowability, the knowledge that to see is not, after all, to know”,** which we draw upon in the aesthetics of intimacy and opacity in the introduction. The production of I Told Our Story, therefore, employs these aesthetics for the Okinawan and American participants of the work.

The designation of power to mainland Japan is deeply inscribed in the modern history of imperialism and colonialism. In relation to this research context of the identification of the nation, it is important to note that Okinawa was appropriated for the ethnocentric identification of Japaneseness by mainland Japanese artists and intellectuals.*** Being aware of the historical controversies concerning the representation of Okinawa by mainland Japanese, I Told Our Story allocates the camera to the Okinawans and the Americans who live on the island in order for each of them to hold their own camera and document their own life in Okinawa.

*Catherine Russell, Experimental Ethnography: The Work of Film in the Age of Video, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999. p. 25.  ** Ibid.
***See the following works and events for further reference about the representation of Okinawa by mainland Japanese artists in the post-war era: Taro Okamoto (1911–1996) and his Forgotten Japan: Okinawa Cultural Theory, Tokyo: Chuokoron-shya, 1961 and the Guso Incident, in which Okamoto violated the Okinawan culture in 1969; and Shomei Tomatsu (1930–2012) and his photobooks OKINAWA, Okinawa, OKINAWA, Tokyo: Shaken, 1969 and Pencils of the Sun, Tokyo: Shaken, 1975. See Takumi Oyashiki, “Shoumei Tomatsu’s OKINAWA: Dismantling the Tomatsu Myth”, N27, no. 7, 19–37, August 2016 for an critical argument against the Shomatsu’s works. See also ethnographer Kunio Yanagida (1875–1962), and his The Road on the Sea, Tokyo: Chikuma-shyobo, 1961.
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