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We might get talked about, but no one ever shows us. Talking about Privilege with artist Gary McLeod

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The author interviews British Japan-based photographic artist and teacher of English Gary McLeod regarding his visual research and interview project of around 100 non-Japanese English teachers in Japan, entitled Privilege. The resulting photographs
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  THE LANGUAGE TEACHER : 34.1 •  January / February 2010 The Language Teacher  » READERS’ FORUM | 37 Keywords Gary McLeod,  privilege , non-nativeEnglish teachers, photography Gary McLeod は東京を拠点とする英語教師・写真家であり、デジタルアートの修士号をCamberwell College of Art in Londonで取得している。Privilege はGary が日本で撮影した英語教師の写真とインタビューをまとめたものであり、日本における英語媒体のメデイア、例えば、Japan Times やJapanzine ではたいへんな関心が寄せられている。Gary の独特な観点から、日本人ではない英語教師がどのように生活し、自分たちの日本での役割をどう捉え、Gary の言うところの「自発的な国外放浪」を、なぜ歴史のこの時点での日本で選択したのかを写真を通して語る語り口には、一見の価値があると言える。 “ We might get talkedabout, but no one ever shows us .”Talking about Privilege   with artist Gary McLeod Thomas Amundrud Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto G ary McLeod is a Tokyo-based teacher of English andphotographic artist with a Master’s in Digital Art fromCamberwell College of Art in London. Privilege is   acollection of photographs and interviews by Gary of Englishteachers in Japan, and has attracted considerable attention fromthe English-language media in Japan, with articles in prominentmagazines like  Japanzine and  Metropolis . What makes Privilege  worth looking at is Gary’s srcinal perspective on how non- Japanese teachers of English live and view their roles in Japan,and moreover, what his photographs tell us about languageteachers who have chosen what Gary calls “voluntary exile” in Japan at this moment in history.Gary’s work is also unique in its use of contemporary socialnetworking to nd subjects. I’d come across Gary’s ad onFacebook and emailed him to volunteer for a shoot in Osaka inlate March 2009. I found him a deeply engaging artist, as wellas a thoughtful interviewer, and on the spot suggested doing aninterview with him for TLT  . TA : So, what is Privilege ? GM : Privilege   is a photographic collection of English teachersliving and working in Japan in this era, a record of those peoplethat existed in this moment of time. The main end-point is a  THE LANGUAGE TEACHER Online » <jalt-publications.org/tlt> 38 TLT    » Readers’ Forum collection of prints that will go into the BritishNatural History Museum. So that is the ultimateaim, to build this collection of English teachers. TA : And what was the initial inspiration for Privilege? GM : One of the things that I’ve always beeninterested in is voluntary exile, the decision tomove from a familiar situation to a new one.That’s something that was driving me to come to Japan srcinally.The other major impetus was the HMS Chal-lenger and it’s photographs of native races as ittraveled around the world, which is where theactual format of the photographs comes. TA : What was the HMS Challenger ? GM : It was a Royal Navy ship that sailed aroundthe world in the 1870s. Its main objective wasscientic research, but as a secondary mission, ittook photos of “natives” in different parts of theworld. TA : How did they choose the people theyphotographed? GM : It’s interesting, when they came to Japan,they photographed a coolie, you know, someonewho pulled the things along, and they photo-graphed a young girl wearing a kimono. That’sall they photographed. But the coolie -- he had ashaved head, and tattoos as well. So they prettymuch chose subjects they thought symbolizedthe culture.But, I say that they might just be symbolic.There’s no record of who they actually were. Thesame goes for my photos. TA : So where do you situate yourself? As anartist? A researcher? GM : I think they are very intermingled, and the“artist” would be generally how I see myself. TA : As an artist, what are you coming at in thisproject? GM : I’m coming at the pictures as being infor-mation I’m collecting. Visual information, that’swhat I’m seeking out, recording, and document-ing. These pictures aren’t aesthetic objects, andthat’s because I see them as information of thesepeople in this moment in time in this century.I guess you could say I’m coming at it from thepoint of view of an artist whose practice is basedon collecting little pockets of information. TA : By the way, you have a very unique camera.What makes it unique and how does it work? GM : What makes it unique is the fact that it’scombining an old eye--the Victorian-era brass  THE LANGUAGE TEACHER : 34.1 •  January / February 2010 39  Amundrud : Talking about Privilege with artist Gary McLeod lens--with a new brain, a modern prosumercamera. The lens over time has become a meta-phor for my eye, and the body of the camera has become a metaphor for my brain.I’m taking a camera which is so familiar to alot of people. They see a camera that they think probably, “oh that looks like my camera. Oh mygod, they stuck it with an old lens like that. Youcan do that?” TA : You’re almost making the camera a foreignobject again. GM : (Laughs) It is denitely an object of interest!I’ve exhibited it before with the pictures, and itcreates a lot of attention.By fusing the current and the past, I’m tryingto draw attention to what is missing. TA : “Fusing the current and the past”…I noticedon your website, you say we live in a “time-poorculture.” Could you unpack that? GM : Well, in terms of looking at it from theperspective of digital photography, how muchtime do people spend thinking about the photo-graph that they’re gonna take? It’s all just veryquick, isn’t it? TA : So how do you bring time into the process ofyour shots? GM : The process introduces time physicallyinto the process-the whole procedure of takingthe portrait takes anything between 15 and 25minutes.What happens when you take a series ofphotographs over that period of time is, timecreeps in. Time is made apparent by change,slight movement, or anything like that.I like to think that this camera is actuallyintroducing a trip – a journey to the arrival point,as opposed to just getting at the arrival pointinstantly. That’s what I mean by “time-poorculture.” It’s only when you invest effort andtime that something becomes more rewarding. TA : How you get the mosaic pattern in yourphotos? GM : That’s because of the automatic processI’ve used, leaving it to a computer to determinethe information in one particular frame, whereit has no relation to any others. So, basically, allthe pictures of each subject are taken separately.When they’re processed, they’re all judgedwith the same criteria by the software, and itauto-adjusts everything. It looks at one image,determines how many darker and lighter pixels,and adjusts accordingly. But it doesn’t knowwhether a part of one image is a part of anotherimage, so actually, it only looks at the imagespiece by piece, and yet it’s still judging by thesame criteria. Therefore the result is that they allslightly change in tones and brightness. TA : I have to say, I denitely felt speciminizedwhen you took my picture (G chuckles) How doyou do that? I certainly got the sense of being measured . GM : Yeah. Well I think that comes from theactual format I brought in from the Challenger  photographs. It’s funny, when people look at theold ones and they look at the teachers, they oftenlaugh because of the similarities between the two– it’s quite striking.It’s partly to do with the lens itself being fromthat era. Photography was different; it was a wayof collecting evidence back then. TA : Anyway, what do you mean by “privilege”? GM : (laughs)The dictionary always seems to come up withtwo different denitions; one that it is a lucky op-portunity, the other is when people are grantedsomething they don’t deserve. Of course, yourown experience of that word pretty much positswhich side you fall on. TA : How many photos have you shot so far? GM : I’ve actually done 84, but the goal now is100. TA : You said it’s more men than women? GM : Generally it’s more men than women, butnot by a large amount. TA : As far as nationality and ethnicity goes…Inoticed in the collection online that you’ve got avery wide range. GM : Actually, I’m surprised by how wide it’sgotten. TA : Are they all native speakers?  THE LANGUAGE TEACHER Online » <jalt-publications.org/tlt> 40 TLT    » Readers’ Forum GM : There are three who aren’t native speakers, but they do teach English, and they’re classedas native speakers. They’ve all had education inAustralia, England, or something like that. TA : And as far as people’s eld within theEnglish teaching industry, mostly eikaiwa ? GM : Actually no. There’s a good balance between eikaiwa and ALTs, I think, with someuniversity teachers too. TA : Speaking very generally, how are the an-swers different between…women versus men,different sorts of native speakers, people fromdifferent countries. Does “privilege” apply to allof them? GM : It’s interesting, I photographed a Jamaicanguy yesterday, and he couldn’t stress enoughhow much of a privilege it was to be here, com-ing from Jamaica where, he said, the opportunityfor Jamaicans to travel just doesn’t exist. Every-one just travels to Jamaica.Obviously it does vary from person to person.There is a general pattern I’ve found for somequestions, though. For example, “Have you everfelt uncomfortable or threatened in some way?”More often then not, women will say they havemore than guys.It also depends on how long the teachers have been here too. One person today was here forthree months, and the longest was actually 22years. So it’s quite a wide range. Plus, what kindof person are they? Are they more positive ormore negative? Also, what time did they come,after work, or on a weekend? But overall, I ndpeople are generally positive about their experi-ence here. TA : So what you’re saying is, your subjectsusually say living and teaching in Japan is aprivilege. “Privilege” being the rst denition,that it’s a chance, a good opportunity GM : Yeah, I think the teachers do generally feelthat way. TA : How about the number two, then? That theydon’t really deserve it. GM : It’s interesting. If you look at the questionwhere I ask people if they feel like they’re paiddeservedly for what they do, a lot of them saythey’re overpaid, particularly ALTs. Even some eikaiwa teachers have said they’re overpaid forwhat they do, in terms of work-to-money ratio.Now, I don’t know if they are or not. I’ve never been an ALT, but going on from what somepeople have said, some ALTs are gloried voicerecorders. I’ve heard that a lot. But I guess itdepends on the year and the ages they’re teach-ing. TA : Do people describe much of a sense ofalienation? GM : Well, someone today felt that she wasgiving suggestions but wasn’t being listened to.She perhaps realized that what she’s doing is justreading out from a book, and she makes sug-gestions, and gets shot down for it, you know,“That’s ne thank you,” but no one’s listening.So I guess there, people can feel alienated.But, at the same time, I’ve had a lot of ALTswho’ve said they do a lot of lesson planning.I think it also depends on who’s employingthem, which prefecture. Some of the feedback Iget is that, some prefectures have more moneythan others, and – there’s more opportunity forALTs than in others. TA : You asked questions like, “How do yousee your role in Japanese society?” “Would yousay that native speaking English teachers werenecessary or a luxury for the study of English?”or “Do you agree that learning English is anecessary skill for Japanese people?” or “Wouldyou consider yourself a good teacher?” What aresome things you often hear about the experienceof teaching English in Japan? GM : Some of the responses vary to, “How doyou see your role?” Some of them are “enter-tainer” to “cultural ambassador” to “culturalconduit”, those kinds of things, plus actually,“voice recorder” as well.As regards to whether teaching English isnecessary, a lot of people generally say “no”, thatlearning English for Japanese people is not neces-sary. Occasionally someone says, “Yes, of course,it’s vital for internationalization.” But generallythey say it depends on what students want to do.Are native speakers necessary? Generally theywill say, “yes,” because of natural pronunciation  THE LANGUAGE TEACHER : 34.1 •  January / February 2010 41  Amundrud : Talking about Privilege with artist Gary McLeod and familiarity with the language, especially incomparison to Japanese teachers of English, who,from what I hear, don’t speak English very well.That again is case by case, just a generalization. TA : So the majority have all generally said they believe the native speaker teachers are necessary. GM : Yeah. I think generally that’s the case, nota generalization, though interestingly enough,they say English is not necessary. That’s why Iasked that question in that way. I say, “Wouldyou say that learning English is necessary for Japanese people?” Often the response is, “Noit’s not necessary. It depends on what they wantto do with their lives.” “Therefore, do you think native-speaking English teachers are necessary?”This asks them to think, should they be entitledto have this job or not? TA : How many folks would you say are reallyinto their profession? Versus, say, people who are just here for the ride? GM : Well, no one’s going to stick their hand upand say, “I’m here for a free ride,” but they’re allaware of certain people that do come here andfree ride, so to speak. Someone drew attention toit today, actually. TA : And about teaching … GM : Do they consider themselves good teach-ers? A majority consider themselves at least to beacceptable. A few people have said, “outstand-ing.” TA : And how do they justify that? GM : Some of them might justify it by how muchthey’ve come, how much they prepare outsideof what they’re supposed to be there for. Youknow, particularly with kids and things like that.Actually the ones that said “outstanding” mighthave been the kids’ teachers. But again, this is ageneralization. TA : Of people who have seen these photos so far,what’s been their reaction? GM : Um, a lot of people have said to me, eventoday someone said to me, occasionally I ask youknow, why did you volunteer for this thing? Andthey said, well you know, I’ve never seen anyonedo this sort of thing about English teachers. Youknow, we often get, we might get talked about, butno one ever shows us . They said that it was anamazingly new thing that they’d never seen before. So I mean there’s that aspect to it. It is anew thing. In that sense, I kind of feel honoredto be the one doing it I suppose. A lot of peoplehave said to me, what you’re doing is reallyinteresting. I think it’s because of how manylevels there are to it. TA : One other thing is, what’s going to happenwith the interviews? I mean the photos are yourfocus of course, but what are you doing with allthis data? GM : My intention is to transcribe them all. I believe the museum will accept the transcrip-tions, though I haven’t thought about it much. TA : Finally, what do you think might be someripple effects of this project? GM : Well this is one of the things the exhibi-tions will present the answer to. Let’s notforget, this work is not necessarily completeduntil it’s got an audience, right?Also, bear in mind that when they go into thecollection of the Natural History Museum, theywon’t be presented at all, because they’re going
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