They carried the joys and sorrows of those living with the sea
March 27, 2008 10:45 PM   Subscribe

Iwase Yoshiyuki "In the late 1920s, young Yoshiyuki received an early Kodak camera as a gift. Since the main livelihood of the town came from the sea, he gravitated there, and soon found a passion for "the simple, even primitive beauty" of ama – girls and women who harvested seaweed, turban shells and abalone from beneath the coastal waters." "By the late 1960s, they had disappeared. This body of work stands as the final, most comprehensive visual document of the life and work of these divers." [NSFW]

Note: the Ama section has more than the 15 previews shown, when you enter the slide show (there are 45).
posted by tellurian (48 comments total) 97 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wow, some of these are really amazing. Somehow, looking at these images, it looks very modern to me. Hard to believe that these were a decade before the big war...
posted by crazy finger at 11:08 PM on March 27, 2008


Thanks for the great post - I had never heard of the ama divers before. I really like this picture (from the Onjuku gallery).
posted by Staggering Jack at 11:08 PM on March 27, 2008


Gorgeous photos. I like the "Glimpses" section the best.
posted by amyms at 11:12 PM on March 27, 2008


These are pretty cool.

Artists of all kinds, take note -- the interface here is entirely unfancy and completely functional. Sure, I didn't notice the page change button right away, but it's otherwise fantastic.
posted by lumensimus at 11:21 PM on March 27, 2008


Actually, the interface could have been improved by making the pictures simple links instead of using javascript calls. I'm on a slow connection, and it would have been much, much better to be able to open a bunch of pictures in tabs, do something else, and then browse them at leisure than to have to click, wait for it to load, and then repeat the process once the picture has loaded.

That said, these are beautiful photos.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:28 PM on March 27, 2008


Wow, these are pretty amazing.
posted by onalark at 11:35 PM on March 27, 2008


That looks like an incredibly hard line of work, but in most of the pictures they are smiling.
posted by eclectist at 12:21 AM on March 28, 2008


I'm liking the historical photography trend going on here today. These are amazing, alright.

I'm lucky to have a Japanese programming channel here that shows episodes of Soko Ga Shiritai - it was kind of a travel show that documented unusual/cool things around Japan, and they would frequently barge their way into family homes just to see if there was anything interesting going on. In an episode I watched recently, they went to Shirahama village where these women divers were still doing their thing - at around 60-70 years of age. The lady they were interviewing had permanent creases where her dive mask had furrowed into her cheeks over the course of 50 years. At the time the show aired, there were less than a dozen of these divers left in the village, and as none of the younger generation wanted to take up this kind of work it looked as though the lifestyle would disappear.

Since the last Soko Ga Shiritai episode originally aired around 10 years ago, it made me wonder if this diving lifestyle was already gone. This article from 2003 is the newest I could immediately find.
posted by krippledkonscious at 1:33 AM on March 28, 2008


It really is amazing that these were taken in the 20's and 30's. There's a very modern feel to them, and the villagers seem so unselfconscious and comfortable being nude in front of the camera and around each other. And because they village women were diving and swimming for a living, they are slender and fit in a way that very few women were, until working out and jogging became commonplace in the 80's.

This one [NSFW], in particular, is so lovely (the photograph and the woman). It's hard to believe it was taken when my 87 year old grandmother was a small child.

Thank you, tellurian. I'll share this with some of my friends.
posted by Devils Slide at 2:12 AM on March 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Beautiful. Past. Japan. Women. Photographs. Post. Moment.
Thank you very much.
posted by nicolin at 2:27 AM on March 28, 2008


Lovely photos, thanks for posting this.
posted by maxwelton at 2:40 AM on March 28, 2008


This one (unfortunately NSFW also) really struck me.

The pose, the lighting, the contrast of the model against the background... Positively stunning.

Cheers for the link.
posted by Samizdata at 3:00 AM on March 28, 2008


I love the way he makes hard work look like fun.
posted by dabitch at 3:20 AM on March 28, 2008


the daughter of the occupation is probably my favorite. (under glimpses)
posted by dabitch at 3:23 AM on March 28, 2008


Half of these birds have their tits out.

What about a NSFW warning?

This FPP has made me sad.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 3:26 AM on March 28, 2008


Amazinginly iconic photographs. This is fantastic.
posted by fire&wings at 3:28 AM on March 28, 2008


Great post. Thanks v. much tellurian.
posted by peacay at 3:30 AM on March 28, 2008


dabitch, maybe it was fun, at least for a little while on a hot day. The ladies are laughing, maybe at the sea spray, or at a joke they told.

I've never seen women so at home in their own bodies. They're neither ashamed nor defiantly Owning Their Sexuality. They're just as at ease as shirtless men in this day and age.
posted by Countess Elena at 3:52 AM on March 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


This one [NSFW], in particular, is so lovely (the photograph and the woman). It's hard to believe it was taken when my 87 year old grandmother was a small child.

That's because it wasn't. Capation reads c.1955. But I know what you mean.
posted by Frasermoo at 4:02 AM on March 28, 2008


What about a NSFW warning?
There is one in the FPP, uncanny hengeman, did you not see it?
posted by dabitch at 4:04 AM on March 28, 2008


Gorgeous photos, thanks much. I love the one titled "Friends," from the Ama section.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 4:33 AM on March 28, 2008


There is one in the FPP, uncanny hengeman, did you not see it?

Needed more marquee.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 4:35 AM on March 28, 2008


MetaTalk
posted by tellurian at 4:39 AM on March 28, 2008


My god these are beautiful. Jaw-droppingly beautiful. Fascinating through and through. Thanks for this, tellurian; it's one of the best posts I've seen in weeks.
posted by mediareport at 4:48 AM on March 28, 2008


Absolutely awesome, tellurian. Some of these shots instantly transport me into the setting.

Just today, I was thinking 'damn, never knew tellurian's blog was so damn good, and here you go sharing the love. Well done.
posted by cosmonik at 4:53 AM on March 28, 2008


Beautiful photographs... sadly the Ama are now breathing their last
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 4:56 AM on March 28, 2008


This is amazing.
posted by chunking express at 5:02 AM on March 28, 2008


Wonderful shots—thanks very much for the post.

/spent early childhood in Japan
posted by languagehat at 5:19 AM on March 28, 2008


Wow....fantastic. (Of course, the technician in me is wondering what film was used, what settings were on the camera, etc....)
posted by notsnot at 5:25 AM on March 28, 2008


James Bond among the Ama
posted by jouke at 5:31 AM on March 28, 2008


These are just gorgeous, what an eye this guy had. Great pictures and such an interesting subject (especially in light of their historical significance as the last record of these people). Great post, this is why I love MeFi.
posted by biscotti at 6:13 AM on March 28, 2008


That's because it wasn't. Capation reads c.1955. But I know what you mean.

Oh, my bad. But still...
posted by Devils Slide at 7:14 AM on March 28, 2008


Beautiful.
Very Japanese in a way this harmony of composition, silky black and white, raw subject and formal poses, nature and artifice, and very warm and civilized empathy with the subjects.
Thanks, tellurian.
posted by bru at 7:21 AM on March 28, 2008


Of course, the technician in me is wondering
I too, wondered about that notsno. From his site biography: "As Mr. Iwase's passion for photography deepened, his range of equipment expanded to include a bellows camera, a Super Six - [spelling? - google and wikipedia say nothing], a Sohoflex - [spelling? - google and wikipedia say nothing] and a Rollei (1929)." Can we estimate from the production date of cameras which shots were taken with which sort of camera (film and setting aside) also (sepia and black and white)? Can you identify the cameras here or here?
'1945' was the earliest dated picture I saw on this site, so can we assume that all of these pictures were taken with the Rollei (do you use a hood with a Rollei [see])?
posted by tellurian at 7:25 AM on March 28, 2008


Quite striking, each and every one.
I think it's quite telling both of their culture at the time, and our culture now, that these are marked NSFW.
Something to think about, perhaps.
posted by GoingToShopping at 7:37 AM on March 28, 2008


The Sohoflex was a pre-war British SLR (Marion & Co, 3 Soho Square, London W1). It took 3x4 inch plate or film and had a 4.75" Ross Xpres (Tessar type) F4.5 lens.
posted by speug at 7:49 AM on March 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


They remind me of The Sound of Waves.
posted by grobstein at 8:30 AM on March 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oh, these are beautiful images. I have always been really interested by the sea-women - the southern Korean islands have a long history of them too (here's an old NY Times piece on the haenyo). Their breadwinner status changes their roles in the community; fascinating stuff.

It is an ugly, hard, sometimes bloody job, though. The tendency is to romanticize (or eroticize) them, but these are women who free-dive to a hundred feet and hold their breath for minutes at a time. My mother used to tell me about women who would break the surface, blood pouring from their ears - accidents - incidents with sealife - drownings. These are lovely photographs, but it must have been a hard life.
posted by peachfuzz at 9:59 AM on March 28, 2008


The ability to describe how these incredibly beautiful photos made me feel is beyond me. I had never heard of the Ama, and now I'm grieving hard for their loss, and the loss of so many other things...

Thank you so much for posting this.
posted by perilous at 10:09 AM on March 28, 2008


he gravitated there, and soon found a passion for "the simple, even primitive beauty" of ama

Well, there's a minefield here, you know: questions concerning class, the erotic representation of working women (a longstanding tradition in 19th century England) and exactly who these photographs were taken for, and how they were used, and so on (were they sold in the West for purposes of sexually charged exotica? where were they previously published? etc.) but I'm not sure that a discussion on this subject would be welcome in this thread....
posted by jokeefe at 11:19 AM on March 28, 2008


Why wouldn't it? They're good questions, and you framed them well.
posted by mediareport at 6:57 PM on March 28, 2008


jokeefe, I was wondering the same things - esp since these shots are mostly post-war. I like the photos and am pleased to learn about the ama, though.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:00 PM on March 28, 2008


In korea, the ama divers are referred to as haenyo, which means sea maidens or mermaids.

And when I was in Hawaii I actually met an older woman who used to be a pearl diver in her youth. She told me a story of how she was enlisted by the US Navy to help keep refuse from damaging the bottom of their ships and only these teenage girl divers were able to go under because they were used to the sea pressure without any scuba gear for long periods of time.

Great stuff.
posted by cazoo at 9:00 PM on March 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


whoops, didn't see you there peachfuzz. :)
posted by cazoo at 9:03 PM on March 28, 2008


Oh and check out Juzo Itami's 1986 film Tampopo. There is one segment which has a tiny bit with an ama diver which was serenely magical.
posted by cazoo at 9:10 PM on March 28, 2008


if i wasn't already linked to tellurian i'd link today

thank you
posted by infini at 9:33 PM on March 28, 2008


Interesting addition peachfuzz and cazoo.
posted by jouke at 10:31 PM on March 28, 2008


GoingToShopping, although these photos might be NSFW in the Excited States, in some more enlightened and less sexually repressed parts of the world, viewers would have no need to skulk around to view them at work.

Vive La France!
posted by lometogo at 4:53 PM on March 29, 2008


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