Photographs are a great primary resource. An exposure made on film captured a moment defined by the photographer who set up the camera and framed the image. At the turn-of-the-century, photographers and filmmakers were making images to promote Hawai`i as an idyllic tourist destination, Native Hawaiians as people of an exotic culture, and Honolulu as bustling American city. We have been inundated with these nostalgic photographs of "old Hawaii." By challenging photographs made in the Territorial period, we can re-focus these perceptions of Hawai`i. To do this we need to engage in a dialogue with the image, the photographer, and the intention or context for the use of the image.
Some questions to ask when examining a photograph: What is the image of? What do we know about the person or place photographed? What was the photographer's intended use for the image? Did the person in the image have control over the image of her/himself and how it was to be used? What/who wasn't photographed? What other details does the camera record that the photographer might have overlooked? What is at the edge of the frame that the photographer may not have intended to include in the final print? Was the photograph published? What was the context for it in the publication? Is the image a part of a larger series of images made by the photographer? What is its context within the series? Did the photographer or publication provide a title for the photograph? What does the title tell us about the intention of the image? And finally, how does the image function in the social context of the present viewer? Photographs, like written texts, not only require questioning but deserve nothing less.
There are a number of sources for film and photographic images: Bishop Museum Archives has photographs arranged by subject as well as many collections of photographs and negatives by local photographers, including Ray Jerome Baker, Christian J. Hedemann, On Char, and Usaku Teragawachi. Char and Teragawachi had photo studios in Honolulu. Videotapes of the portraits made in these studios are available for viewing at Bishop Museum Archives. Many of the images by these photographers are described on the Bishop Museum catalog available on UHCARL, the on-line catalog.
Hawai'i State Archives has photographs arranged by subject as well as the collection of J. J. Williams purchased by the Territory of Hawai'i. Descriptive records of the photographic files at the State Archives will soon be on-line on the University of Hawai'i Library on-line catalog. Some photographs from the Archives photo files are on the Local Sightings/Citings Project website.
Early photographs of the University of Hawai'i are available at the University Archives through the Special Collections on the 5th floor of Hamilton Library. Some of these images are described in the Masao Miyamoto collection at the University of Hawai'i Library Special Collection website.
The HSPA (Hawaii Sugar Planters' Association) Plantation Archives at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa Library's Special Collection includes nearly 800 labor contracts for the McBryde Plantation on Kaua'i. Many of these contracts include identification photographs of the Japanese workers. These photographs were made in Honolulu at the immigration station before the laborers were sent to plantations.
The University of Hawai'i at Manoa Hawaiian collection has books and portfolios of images made by Ray Jerome Baker. Selected images from a portfolio of "Hawaiian Types" are included on the Local Sightings/Citings website. Most of these images of Hawaiians were made when Baker first settled in Hawai'i between 1910-1912. Many of these photographs were reproduced in the Paradise of the Pacific and Mid Pacific Magazine. Baker also sold copies of these images to visitors and residents from his Waikiki studio. In an unpublished manuscript "Ray Jerome Baker" (ca. 1960, Bishop Museum Archives, n. p.), Margaret Titcomb includes this recollection by Baker of his earlier years as a photographer: "The Hawaiian people were so unspoiled, so unsophisticated, and the children so unconscious of attention that the gathering of photographic records of early Hawaiian life was easy and a pleasure. It happened that no one had done it before. Hawaiian men threw their nets, handled their spears, pounded poi or worked their taro ponds and launched their canoes with realism, completely unconscious of the attention shown them. Nor did they demand exorbitant fees for having a few pictures made of them." In fact, Baker considered that when Hawaiians began later to demand payment for having pictures made, they lost their unspoiled attitude, therefore their value as subjects.
Promotional magazines, Paradise of the Pacific and Mid Pacific used photographs extensively. These images are indexed on the Hawai'i Uncover available on UHCARL, the on-line catalog. After 1900, Hawai'i newspapers regularly published photographs. The Honolulu Advertiser, Nippu Jiji and the Star-Bulletin had photographers on their staffs. The newspaper microfilm is a good resource to look at news photographs during this period. Video clips of early motion picture film made in Hawai'i are available at Bishop Museum Archives and the Wong Audio-visual Center at Sinclair Library, University of Hawai'i at Manoa.
Videotapes about Hawai'i's past and culture are valuable both as resources and as objects of research. Increasingly, documentary video recordings are likely to be the primary way most people encounter and receive information about the past.
Who is making films has changed over the recent decades: contemporary documentary filmmakers include Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders (thanks in part to funding sources, such as Pacific Islanders in Communication), Asian-Americans and women of all ethnicities and cultures. Consequently, their documentaries provide views of the past and contemporary culture that previously have been unexplored. Their work offers new interpretations of the past, sometimes through examinations of the work of contemporary artists and activists or through explorations of current issues and conflicts. The challenge these visual documents offer to the conventional written historical form, as well as to our knowledge about and understanding of the past, is profound.
In addition to an extensive collection of Hawaiian language videotapes, Sinclair Library's Wong Audiovisual Center offers scores of videotapes that focus on contemporary Native Hawaiian issues and various aspects of the culture. Examples of the range of videos available to researchers are: Eddie Kamae's films on music and conservation; Edgy Lee's films about the paniolo and Papakolea; Elizabeth K. Lindsey's highly personal approach to Hawaiian history in her largely autobiographical film, Then There Were None; the history of the control of Windward O'ahu water and Hawaiian self-determination in Hard Taro of Waiahole; a Kanaka Maoli examination of the 1893 Overthrow, An Act of War; and Fences, a film project by Wa'iana'e High School students. A bibliography of the collection up to 1993 is available at Hamilton. Also, on the reference shelves at the Wong Center, researchers can find lists of films and videotapes that focus on ethnic groups, such as Asian Americans, and other local topics.
Typically documentary films are consulted for the information and evidence they provide, but they themselves can be a topic of study. Feature films lend themselves to analysis and can challenge researchers to scrutinize representations of Hawai'i, its culture and people, and historical events. Robert C. Schmitt's bibliography of movies through the 1950s as well as the documentary Hawaii On Screen can quickly introduce students to the large number of film and television productions that have focused on Hawai'i.
Interestingly, films, although in their infancy, were important during the early Territorial period. Consolidated Amusement was a presence in the early 1900s and by accounts in the newspapers, people in the islands anxiously awaited the arrival of films from the U.S. Continent. Like many other aspects of past popular culture in Hawai'i, the impact of film is one that has not been adequately examined and measured.
Bibliographies available at Wong Audiovisual Center, Sinclair Library:
"Asian Americans in the United States and Hawai'i." Compiled by Dore Minatodani. Aug. 1994.
"Hawaiian Language Videotapes in or about the Hawaiian Language." Compiled by Dore Minatodani. Mar. 1996.
"Native Hawaiian Issues: A Bibliography of Videos and Films in the Wong Audiovisual Center." Compiled by Dore Minatodani, University of Hawai'i Library, Sept. 1994.
"Videotapes on Sugar in Hawai'i." Prepared by Linda Engelberg and Chieko Tachihata. Oct. 1996.
"Videotapes on the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, 100th Infantry Battalion, 552nd Field Artillery Battalion, an 441st Counter Intelligence Corps." Prepared by Cindy Yatagai. July, 1998.
"Moving Images of the Pacific Islands: A Guide to Films and Videos." Compiled by Alexander Mawyer, Occasional Paper 41, Center for Pacific Island Studies. Honolulu: School of Hawaiian, Asian and Pacific Studies, University of Hawai'i.
Schmitt, Robert C. Hawaii in the Movies, 1898-1959. Honolulu: Hawaiian Historical Society, 1988.
Schmitt, Robert C. "Movies in Hawaii, 1897-1932: A Postscript." Photocopy of typescript, Honolulu: 1969.