Saturday, November 28, 2009

Portrait: Jimi Yamaichi

Jimi Yamaichi was the fourth person I photographed for this project. Jimi's family was originally incarcerated at the Pomona Assembly Center, and then at the Heart Mountain (Wyoming) internment camp. When the family was moved to the Tule Lake internment camp in Northern California, Jimi took a job supervising construction of the barracks at Tule Lake. At one point he had 250 men working under his supervision.

(Photo by Andy Frazer)
Jimi still has a razor-sharp memory of the time during and after internment. He is also considered to be an authority on the design and construction of the facilities at Tule Lake, and he lead the construction of the new home of the Japanese-American Museum of San Jose. He is currently the Curator of the JAMsj.

Jimi was the first person who worked with me on an extensive audio interview:
  • Discussing the importance of the Japanese-American Museum in San Jose: Listen
  • The difficulties of resettlement : Listen
  • Discussing how Isseis never complained: Listen
  • Amusing story about Isseis helping each other out: Listen
  • Isseis would not talk about how hard it was: Listen
  • Eiichi Sakauye and farming at Heart Mountain Internment Camp: Listen
  • Eiichi Sakauye and the Japanese-American legacy: Listen
  • Discussing how we are all Americans: Listen 
  • Parallels between Japanese-American interment and the current challenges for American-Muslims: Listen 

You can also read the Transcript of the above interviews. 

    (Photo by Andy Frazer)
      For more information about Jimi Yamaichi, please also read A Salute to a JAMsj Visionary: The Unrelenting Passion of Jimi Yamaichi

        Tuesday, November 10, 2009

        Discussion: Photographic Style Part Two

        One issues that often comes up when discussing portrait photography is whether or not the photographer should ask the subjects to smile. There are big snapshot-style smiles, big professional model-style smiles, small ("Mona Lisa") smiles, and no smiles.

        Photo by Richard Avedon (left), Lynn Blodgett (right)

        If a portrait photographer aspires to create an artistic interpretation of the subject, you will rarely see big smiles. Some photographers, such as Lynn Blodgett, prefer to work with small ("Mona Lisa") smiles. Other portrait photographers, such as Richard Avedon, prefered no smile at all. Some people argue that a no smile is more artistic and more true to the character than even a small smile. I guess that's a personal opinion. I would not question the artistic merit of Avedon's portraits, but I don't feel that it is the correct choice for the Koiku Project. When I photograph the people of Japanese descent, I'm not trying to capture the "rough and ready" or "down-and-out" character Avedon wanted in his "In the American West" series.

        I believe that my photograph of Roy Matsuzaki is the perfect example of the balance between smiling and "artistic seriousness" that I was striving for in this project.

        Saturday, November 7, 2009

        Discussin: Photographic Style Part One

        After last week's launch of the Kioku Project website, I received a lot of interesting emails from friends and photographers. One person, who is both a very talented photographer and a very intelligent person, asked me why I chose to photograph my subjects against a white seamless background, and why I chose to photograph with a partial smile.

        In this post I'd like to talk about the first question: the white seamless background. In the following posting I'll talk about the second question: the smiles.

        My primary inspiration for the photographic style of this project has been Richard Avedon's In the American West project. Avedon, one of the world's best-known fashion photographers, spent five summers traveling across the American mid-west shooting portraits of people who symbolized his vision of that part of the country. He photographed everyone in open shade against a white seamless background. He described this technique as, "it's just me, the subject and the camera". Although this technique is easy to setup, and it gives the photographer a lot of control over the sitting, it also exposes every minutiae of the photographer's talent, or lack of, as a portraitist.

        (Avedon at work on "In the American West", photo by Laura Wilson)

        An alternative approach would be to photograph the subjects in color, with a narrow depth of field, in a location that shows some connection to the person's life; such as their home, their family, or a meaningful location. This is known as environmental portraiture. This was also a very attractive option that I seriously considered for the past year. And I've photographed some of these subjects under the those conditions. But this style of portraiture is very popular today. When I visualized where this project would be after a few years, I felt that it would be difficult to differentiate my project from many other photographers' work, particularly among popular photo-sharing communities such as Flickr.

        The second reason for selecting the white-seamless-open-shade approach is that I found it the most challenging photography technique that I've ever wrestled. A successful shot in this style is very difficult because the slightest flaw becomes so obvious. Maybe that's why Avedon chose it; because he was talented enough to it off. For me, it's a challenging learning experience.

        For more examples of portrait photographers who were influenced by the style of Avedon's In the American West, take a look at Lynn Blodgett's Saving Grace project, and Clay Enos' Street Studio.

        Thursday, November 5, 2009

        Website Launch

        Today I launched the website for the Kioku Project: Portraits of Japanese-American Internees. The initial site contains photographs and brief information about four amazing people who I've met through the Japanese-American Museum of San Jose: Roy Matsuzaki, Joe Yasutake, Arturo Shibayama, and Jimi Yamaichi.

        Thanks to the generous help of everyone who introduced me to these people, and especially to the people who have shared their stories and time with me. I've already planned the next two people who I will photograph and include in this website. I also have plans to add some audio recordings where you can hear some of the people talk about their stories with internment.

        If you have any comments or thoughts about this project, please feel free to contact me at andyfrazer [at] gorillasites [dot] com.

        Wednesday, November 4, 2009

        Welcome to the Kioku Project

        This blog will be used to announce updates to The Kioku Project: Portraits of Japanese-American Internees. This is a personal project where I am photographing people of Japanese descent who were interned by the American government during World War II. When possible, I try to include some background about the person's experiences during internment.

        The website is in the pre-launch phase, right now. I will update this blog regularly as updates to the website become available.

        Thanks for visiting,

        Andy Frazer