The Oliver L. Austin Photographic Collection


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The Oliver L. Austin Images

at the Institute on World War II and the Human Experience, Florida State University

An American Ornithologist's View of Japan, Antarctica, and the South Pacific

Dr. Oliver L. Austin, Jr. headed the Wildlife Branch of the Fisheries Division in the Natural Resources Section (NRS) for SCAP from September 4, 1946 to December 31, 1949.  He was honored as one of only two members of the US Occupation of Japan who received a personal commendation for meritorious civilian service by General Douglas MacArthur.  Austin implemented reforms of game laws and created wildlife sanctuaries as well as public hunting grounds to help conserve and manage Japan's wildlife and natural resources.  During his nearly four years in Japan, Austin left behind almost 1,000 well-preserved color photographic slides of postwar Japan under reconstruction:  highlights include American expatriate life, ordinary Japanese families in Tokyo and the countryside, and Japanese veterans purveying street entertainments. 

The images reveal high artistic quality and composition while they provide a glimpse into an important era in US-Japan relations.  Through his ornithological connections, Austin met and collaborated with deposed Japanese aristocrats who engaged in the study of birds as dilettantes and connoisseurs, including Prince Takatsukasa (head priest of the Meiji Shrine) and Marquis Yamashina Yoshimaro (founder of the Yamashina Institute for Ornithology). His son Tony, who served as the conversational English partner of Crown Prince Akihito, the current Emperor of Japan, donated this remarkable collection, which features rare color photos of Emperor Ahikito as a child, scenes of the grounds of the imperial palace, and shots of collateral members of the imperial family.

In 1955 and 1956, Austin was invited to work as an Air Force scientific observer on the US Navy's first Operation Deep Freeze, a preparatory expedition for the International Geophysical Year. At this time, the nature of American aims in the South Pole depended heavily on the military’s relationship with academic and scientific communities. Operation Deep Freeze I (1955-1956), led by Rear Admiral Richard Evelyn Byrd, aimed to construct bases for the American role in the 1957 IGY, which marked an eighteen-month period of international scientific cooperation and research, particularly related to the earth’s polar regions. In addition to his work on the expedition, Austin conducted research on Adélie and emperor penguins, skua, and seals, implementing a bird-banding project for his ornithological work. The 170 photographs from Operation Deep Freeze provide a remarkable look at some of the world's remotest locations.
Austin at work in Antarctica, 1956
These photographs, recently digitized by Institute staff, are being made to the public through this gallery. For more information about the Austin photographs, or to learn more about the Institute on World War II, please visit our main website, where you can learn more. If you'd like to join our mailing list, or would like to be notified of special lectures, exhibits, and programming, drop us a line and we'll keep in touch.