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“Picture Man”: Shoki Kayamori and the Photography of Colonial Encounter in Alaska, 1912–1941

From: College Literature
Volume 41, Number 1, Winter 2014
pp. 90-118 | 10.1353/lit.2014.0002



This essay focuses on the life and photographs of Shoki Kayamori, a Japanese migrant worker who settled in Yakutat, Alaska, in the 1910s. For three decades he photographed the everyday activities of the town’s denizens, but when World War II escalated, Kayamori committed suicide as rumors circulated that he was a spy. Based on nearly 700 existing Kayamori photographs, this essay argues that Kayamori’s visual archive demonstrates multiple liminal intimacies. In his photographic work, Kayamori crossed racial and gendered boundaries to represent both indigeneity and racial heterogeneity within Alaska’s colonial encounter. Kayamori’s liminal status also allowed him to capture Tlingit strategies for resistance outside of the traditional-modern binary. The framework of liminal intimacy allows for yet another type of reading, between the boundaries of Asian-American studies and Native studies, in order to elucidate a disavowed militarization and surveillance that highlights colonialism and modernity as co-constitutive processes.

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