Mao Ishikawa is an Okinawan photographer who has been documenting her homeland and the contentious presence of the U.S. military there for over 36 years. Her uncompromising photography work looking at the lives of “Kin-Town Women” — that is, those women who “befriend” American marines in the Kin entertainment district that caters to them off-base, including at one point Ishikawa herself — led that other great documenter of the American military in Okinawa Shomei Tomatsu to write:
It’s hardly necessary to point out that as a photographer [Mao Ishikawa] lives at the polar opposite of the illusion of objectivity. Mao’s photography does not give a hoot for photography as a systematic structure. Rather, she views the whole world by becoming a totally committed part of it. She is a photographer, and also a Kin-Town woman. The distance between her and the subject, and her relationship with it, are completely different from that of the run-of-the-mill photographer.
In 1975, while shooting in Koza, another of the entertainment districts in Okinawa, Ishikawa became friends with Myron Carr, an American serviceman from Philadelphia. In 1986 Ishikawa left her young daughter in the care of her mother to visit Carr, who had returned home from Okinawa in 1977. Ishikawa stayed for two months with Myron and his twin brother Byron, and took photos of the two of them and the various other people who lived in the house and around their poor inner-city Philadelphia neighborhood.
At the time, upon returning to Japan and looking over the prints, Ishikawa thought they were nothing special. Fortunately, upon relooking at them 23 years later, Ishikawa now realizes she captured something very special indeed. As she writes in the book’s introduction:
I don’t know how I managed to take photos of all the various scenes, which are all so very natural. In every one of them, everyone is unselfconsciously themselves and they are unabashed by my presence. You don’t get many photos like these. Even I was impressed!
This nearly 25 year old work has just been published for the first time in a book entitled Life in Philly, by Nara gallery OUT of PLACE in collaboration with Zen Foto Gallery of Tokyo, and Japan Exposures is very pleased to be able to offer it to our readership.