Monday, October 17, 2011

Photographer Iwase Yoshiyuki's Ama Divers ~ 1950's (and selected works)

Iwase Yoshiyuki was born in 1904 in Onjuku, a fishing village on the pacific side of the Chiba peninsula, which encloses Tokyo Bay on the east. After graduating from Meiji University Law School in 1924, he took up lifelong pursuits, heading the family sake distillery and documenting the receding traditions of coastal Japan. In the late 1920's 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, oysters (which sometimes had pearls) and abalone from beneath the coastal waters. 

Ama divers went out three times a day, requiring extensive eating and warming at the fireside between runs. A good harvest required long, cold dives, up to four minutes of hard underwater work on a single lungful of air. As such, ama divers were paid enormous salaries, often making more a few week season than the men of the village made in a year. When Yoshiyuki began shooting in the late 1920s, there were several hundred ama divers active in the seven harbours of the Iwawada coast (Kohaduki, Oohaduki, Futamata, Konado, Tajiri, Koura and Nagahama). By the late 1960's this 2000 year old way of life had disappeared. Yoshiyuki's  images are the most comprehensive document of ama divers ever produced and a stunning visual testament to these fascinating iconic women.


Scene from one of my favourite Japanese films ~ Tampopo:
 (sorry I was unable to find an English subtitled version)

Tampopo - Extrait VOSTFR by Dwiggy

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