Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion) in Kyoto: This photo was taken by my friend Stevie, who was traveling in Japan en route to study Chinese medicine in Nanjing. Remixing this image five months later from my laptop in Austin, it occurs to me that my work to organize the meaning of my research in Japan parallels an aesthetic project. One that involves sorting, categorizing, and editing thousands of photographs taken in the eight Japanese cities I visited during my trip.
On most of my days spent in Hiroshima, my photography was voracious: multiple perspectives of the Atomic Dome, Cenotaph, and other monuments, images revisiting the park in rain and in daunting brightness, serial documentation of the museum exhibits, close-ups of material witnesses—remains of clothing, charred lunch boxes, a thumb, and other personal artifacts retrieved from the ashes. A good friend who lives in Fukuoka and accompanied me to Nagasaki still enjoys teasing me for forcing her to endure several hours of noisy photography at the Atomic Bomb Museum.
The impulse to document everything connects to an anxiety about place, a fear that the risk of loss could permeate any experience of temporary residence. But loss is not a risk, it is a necessary condition. It’s an ethical dimension for researchers (and non-researchers too, of course). The very selection of a theoretical frame initiates a loss of data and perspectives exceeding its view. When we visit and return from place, we lose other things: visual and sensory details, the adjacent spaces never visited, and data overlooked. The photograph reports its dependence on time and place and the inability to return to it. Our intellectual vulnerability contains important cues. What loss might then reveal is a colonial hubris underwriting impulses to control data and “subjects” producing data, rooted in both anxiety and power.
In remixing these images, I encounter how my project is one grasping at experience. What these visuals attempt to remember are the moods of place. Or rather, an allusion to the (amateur) photographer’s experience of perspective, emotion, and sensation while annotating place. The reviewed image, extracted from these senses, underscores how knowledge constantly moves and cannot be captured. Moreover, to remix and assemble is a method taking a long view to the field. In editing, I’m given a closer look to how memory anticipates its own construction from within the field and not simply retrospectively. Then, a second look to how the frame of memory often excludes by its design, warranting both play and interrogation.
photo: the corners of the Atomic Dome in Hiroshima, remixed from color to black and white