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Masumi Hayashi visited every permanent site of Japanese American internment; such was her dedication to its historical truth and visual legacy. I’d like to pay tribute to Hayashi’s artistic rigour, the project and above all her life.
This post is not only a celebration of meaningful photography but also of a life cut short in tragic circumstances.
Prison Photography has needed to limit itself in discussion, so rich and extensive was Hayashi’s oeuvre. I recommend that you spend a long time meditating her Prison series, Salt Mine series and a spectacular EPA Superfund Sites series.
Let us focus, for now, on the issue at hand – Japanese American Internment.
Professor Hayashi photographed all 10 internment camps on American soil. She also documented the 4 Canadian internment sites. It was a subject close to her heart — she was born at the Gila River Relocation camp in Arizona in 1945.
In most cases, Hayashi photographed a full 360 degrees. The gradient of exposure in her photo montages and her extruded viewpoint lent visual richness, height and vertigo to otherwise mundane landscapes. Hayashi’s indelible presence in the works is a reminder of the former human presence in inhumane environments.
Hayashi’s composite tactic solves the problematic banality of many of the sites. She describes here and here that many of the sites as barren and sun bleached (Manzanar, CA has been well-preserved as a memorial and state park, but it is the exception). The most common denominator among the sites was the concrete sewage system. The large peripheral tanks always remained long after the sheds and tended plots had decayed. A brick structure was a treat, and wooden barns, anomalies.
Hayashi’s endeavours cannot be underestimated. As Candida Hofer noted;
If you consider that each individual photograph has four sides (trust me) then multiply by two decisions for each side—where to cut the edge, where to place in relation to the adjacent photo—that’s eight decisions right there. Then multiply that by say 45 photos (the number in ‘Jain Temple’ for example). That’s 360 decisions! When was the last time you did anything that required 360 of anything?
For those of you sitting there thinking, “Oh, yeah, I could take a bunch of little pictures of something too.” No, you couldn’t. Not like this. Her style is built on solid conventional photographic methods (each picture must itself be a very good picture).
In addition to her photographic work, Hayashi conducted audio interviews of former internees to develop a complete sense of experience across the American internment archipelago.
In August 2006, Hayashi along with her neighbour John Jackson, knocked at the door of the apartment of another neighbour Jacob Cifelli to complain oncemore about his high volume music. It was the last of many noise complaints. Cifelli shot them both to death in the stairwell.
The story has added tragedy as Hayashi had recently reunited with her biological daughter, Lisa Takata, after 39 years of estrangement. Hayashi gave Takata up for adoption within a few days after her birth in the midst of the Watts Riots in 1965.
Photographer, artist and fellow Cleveland resident, Norm Roulet summed up the loss of Hayashi;
I am saddened and horrified to now recognize Masumi Hayashi as the finest photographer and one of the greatest artists Northeast Ohio has ever know, as she was murdered last night in her studio. All local arts lovers and artists certainly knew Masumi and her remarkable work, and of the great value she brought to CSU as a professor there. Her loss to Northeast Ohio as an arts community cannot be overstated. Now, every time I paste together my collages I’ll think of Masumi in fond remembrance. Rest in peace, Masumi Hayashi – I apologize to you for the insanity that is Cleveland today.
Rest in peace, indeed.
Masumi Hayashi’s work has been exhibited in internationally respected museums and galleries, including the International Center for Photography in New York, the L.A. County Art Museum, the Japanese American National Museum (L.A.), the Tokyo Museum of Photography, the Ludwig Museum of Art in Germany, and the Victoria and Albert Museum of Photography in London, England. In 2003, she had a retrospective one-person exhibit at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles. Professor Hayashi taught photography for 24 years at Cleveland State University, Ohio.
Gallery with pop-out full size images
Mark Kirchner has been returning to Manzanar for over 25 years. Kirchner’s project is Manzanar Pilgrimage which focuses on the annual memorial gathering and documents former internees and their families’ stories. Mark explains in his artist statement:
This project is a work in progress. As a photographer, I felt the need to create a visual record as the Japanese American community struggled to preserve the site, its history and legacy. My primary role is that of a witness. The process of witnessing the pilgrimages over many years has given me the time to attempt a holistic photographic document. Within this body of work I hope to make visible those brief moments when the human spirit is revealed. I have discovered that some of the people I have photographed do not see themselves or their actions as historically significant and rarely worth photographing. I hope some of their modesty has been instilled in me.
It is somewhat fortuitous that Mark asked me not to include images of people and that I didn’t wish to include any pictures of people. Manzanar is a peculiar site and certainly not of a human scale. As the Eastern Sierras drop off sharply, the plateau of high desert to the east is a stark landscape. Beautiful, awesome, sublime – yes; livable – barely by today’s standards.
Some could argue that Manzanar should be allowed to recede into the dust and weeds of the California/Nevada borderlands – that humans should never have been interred and nor should human’s need to return. But we are funny creatures and I, for one, appreciate the impression of meaning upon a site once the site has run through its cycle of original use. The dialogue about former sites of incarceration is where one finds responsibility, complexity and community.
Manzanar is a flat site with no place to hide. Everything that is visible is rooted to the ground, and all that is invisible is in the memories and oral histories of the people Mark Kirchner cares so much about. If Kirchner’s concern is preserving the stories of people interred, my concern is his images that reflect that aim. I chose these images because they speak of definites; definite people, dates and action (scribing). They are evidence of existence and time. These images are also all surface which to me summarises the barren desert site.
There is a poetic beauty that one speculates the original scrawler was aware or unaware of – that being, the paradox that the necessary human constructions at Manzanar are those to hold the visible, physical evidence. The concrete is as incongruous to the site at Manzanar as mass human occupation was between 1942 and 1945.
Kirchner explains further:
Since the annual pilgrimage lasts only a few hours, I knew it would take many years to make the images for the foundation of this work. As the event grew from the intimate Manzanar Pilgrimage and Potluck of the early 1980s to the pilgrimages we experience today, the task of identifying and gathering contact information has grown. After the 2007 pilgrimage I decided to try to contact the people in my photographs. Most of my free time last year was spent in research and correspondence. I have attempted to identify and contact every person photographed on this site. I still have not been 100 percent successful with this effort. I am hopeful that any person that remains unidentified will in time contact me.
If this post can help Mark Kirchner in his noble endeavour I would be thrilled. Tell your neighbours about it!
Thanks to Mark Kirchner for his permission to reproduce images and the helpful background information on the project.
Comment from Mark Kirchner: I like that you picked up on the nature of the artifacts and their relationship to the earth. At one time there were 800 buildings on the site. Now there are 4 buildings.
Google announced today that it has come to an arrangement with TimeInc to host the LIFE Archive. The archive is one of the largest collections in the world comprised of over 10 million images. This is an incredible new resource for photophiles worldwide. Twenty percent of the images went live today.
A very preliminary search using the keyword “Prison” returned twelve pages of 200 images. I was struck by the strength of the handful of images from the Santo Tomas Prison Liberation Series (Manila, Philippines). The Carl Mydans photographs were captured in the days following the camp’s liberation by allied forces. It was one of four camps liberated in the space of a month in January/February 1945.
Rest assured, I will return to this archive in time to source material and discuss more widely the politics of power partially described by the photographic collection. “Mexico Prison“, with over 150 images, certainly looks like interesting material.
I would like to make clear that this is a hastily put together post and its main function is to draw attention to this fantastic whale-sized new archive – I might go as far to say our archive – I might even go as far to say its bigger than a whale. I do not condone personal whale ownership.
I would also like to clarify that while the LIFE Archive refers to the Santo Tomas Complex as a prison, it was in fact an internment camp – not that naming conventions matter to those who were subject to its walls and discipline. Still, we must always bear in mind the different types of sites of incarceration; what they purported to do; what, in truth, they did; from what context they arose and operated; and how they fit into our general understanding of humans detaining other humans.
Personally, I encountered a strange coincidence over this matter. Internment camps are low on my list of primary interest. I am not an expert on internment camps. But, only yesterday I received a fantastic email from a Berkeley art history undergraduate who is focusing on the work of Ansel Adams, Toyo Miyatake and Patrick Nagatani at Manzanar War Relocation Center, California. From the internet monolith that is Google to the academic interests of aspiring students, the histories, memories and powerful images of Second World War internment push themselves to the fore of thought.
It is conventional wisdom that World War II had two sides. Unfortunately, the military definitions of ‘ally’ and ‘enemy’ spilled into civic life with catastrophic consequences. The US internment of Japanese nationals and Japanese Americans has since been proved to be based not on national security but state-sanctioned discrimination. As testimonies and images attest, where stories are concerned, there are more than two sides.
Click here for the LIFE Archive on Google. Here is an obituary for Carl Mydans, the photographer at Santo Tomas. Try here and here for first-hand account of detention and to find audio and visual resources about Santo Tomas Internment Camp.