In 1951, Charles Gail, an army dentist, was assigned to run an army hospital in Okinawa. An avid photographer, Gail used much of his free time to take pictures of the landscape, people and daily life of Okinawa. After he passed away in 2003, his daughter brought over 200 of his photos to CSPWM to see if we could help her mount an exhibit of his photographs to honor her father.
We quickly recognized that the photographs not only had artistic merit, but also significant historical interest. Gail’s eye for photographic subjects was excellent, but in the range of images he produced, we have an interesting opportunity to consider an early moment in the on-going relationship between Okinawans and Americans.
Many of his prints feature notes in pencil on the back, giving us clues to what Gail did and did not know about his subjects. This also gives us an opportunity to gain insight into the interests and attitudes of an American serviceman in Okinawa in the early 1950s.
At the same time, however, we do not know much of what is actually in the photographs. Who are the people who’s moments he captured? What was it like for the Okinawans he photographed to live and work in in the lean times of his posting to the island?
With these dual sets of questions in mind, the Center is developing a collaborative social history project centering on exhibits of his photographs in Okinawa and the U.S.
In the first stage, we would like to interview American veterans who were assigned to Okinawa during the Korean war and see what memories these photographs evoke for them. We will use those interviews to develop a script for an exhibit of the photographs in Okinawa that is tentatively called “The Eye of an American Serviceman: Okinawa 1951.”
In the second stage, we will team up with researchers and publishers in Okinawa to show the photographs as widely as possible. We will solicit information from the Okinawan people about what is in the photos and also conduct interviews and questionnaires with visitors to the exhibit. We will then use the information gathered in Okinawa to rewrite the exhibit script a second time.
In the third stage, we will show the photographs with the new script at exhibition spaces in Hawai’i, and the west coast of the United States, particularly collaborating with Okinawan and Japanese American community groups.
Ultimately, we hope to publish the photographs and an expanded script, with special essays, in a bilingual edition.
If you would like to contribute to or participate in this project, please feel free to contact the co-Directors of CSPWM.