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I Found 100-Year-Old Glass Plates in an Abandoned Japanese Home

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Abandoned places are an alluring subject matter for many photographers. Japan is a treasure trove of abandoned places, or “haikyo”, due to a perfect storm of an ageing population, a burst economic bubble in the 80s, and land tax loop holes.

Blogs such as Abandoned Kansai do a fantastic job cataloging these locations, which vary from simple family homes all the way to entire abandoned theme parks.

One such family home grabbed my attention in late 2014, and I have visited it many times since in an ongoing attempt to document it. Here’s a 5-minute video I made about my experiences with this home:

This house was built during the Taisho Era of Japan (1912-1926) and was abandoned some time in the 70s or 80s. Apart from its unique mix of Western and Japanese architecture, the site may appear somewhat tame compared to the excitement promised by larger haikyos like hospitals or schools.

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Hidden within a small closet on the second floor, however, was a discovery which has left me obsessed with this location for the last 18 months.

This closet was in fact a dark room, and it was filled with over 200 glass plate negatives taken by a photographer almost 100 years ago.

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These plates offer us an unprecedented look into the lives of the man and family who once lived in this house. We see the house’s construction, the photographer’s wedding, neighboring friends and family, and all manner of daily vignettes featuring recurring characters including a pet monkey.

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I have photographed all the non-destroyed glass plates in an attempt to preserve the images from the slow march of time which is consuming them and the property. I have also extensively photographed the property myself, in addition to producing images blending the two time periods, matching the original photographer’s locations with my own.

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There is a tendency when viewing images of ruins to assume that the decay is indicative of some huge tragic event, when in reality the final days of these sites were likely often very peaceful and anti climactic. When I think about this particular abandoned place, I am filled with a calm and peaceful sense of ease, especially now that we have proof of the full and happy life lived and documented by this Taisho era photographer.

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Talking to the local council and tracking down several distant relatives of the family, I have come up short in finding any living direct descendants, although my research is ongoing. If such a person stumbles across these images, I urge you to please get in contact with me so I can provide you with a high resolution archive of these precious family memories.

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If you are interested in seeing more of these images, a full collection are currently on display alongside my own original works until May 29th at Artsite Gallery in Sydney, Australia. Part of the collection can also be seen in this online gallery.


About the author: Hamish Campbell is a fine art and commercial photographer based in Tokyo, Japan. You can find more of his work on his website.

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