Monday, November 15, 2010

Portrait: Chizuko Judy Sugita

Last month I was asked to photograph the grand opening of the Japanese-American Museum of San Jose. As part of the opening, the museum featured an exhibition of Chiz Sugita's watercolor paintings of her memories of growing up in the Poston War Relocation Camp (Poston, AZ). Six months earlier I read the book that accompanied her watercolor paintings, so I contacted Chiz and asked if I could meet her prior to the grand opening ceremonies to photograph her portrait. She graciously agreed.

Chizuko Judy Sugita de Queiroz was nine years old when her family was forced to sell their home in Orange County, CA in order to report to internment in Poston, AZ. Her dad sold his bonsai nursery to Walter Knott, of Knott's Berry Farm, with an agreement that he could buy it back after the war. When they returned in 1946, Walter Knott failed to honor his contract. Her dad lost all of the stock to his business, and their personal possessions had been stolen.

(Photo by Andy Frazer)

Chiz received her Masters in Art at California State University, Dominguez Hills. She subsequently taught in the Palos Verdes School District, where she became the Art Department Chair.

I met Chiz Sugita in 2010 when I was asked to photograph the Grand Opening ceremony of the Japanese-American Museum of San Jose. The museum was hosting a show of Chiz's watercolor paintings from her series Camp Days 1942-1945. I was already familiar with Chiz's work after reading the book that accompanied her project. After graciously arriving early to let me photograph her formal portrait, I photographed Chiz in front of a few of her paintings.

(Photo by Andy Frazer)

I told Chiz that her painting Girl Scouts (immediately to her left in the above photograph) was my favorite because of the wonderful story that accompanied it in the book:

"Pretending to be Girl Scouts, we hiked to Clay Mountains. Lost, exhausted and thirsty, we finally made our way home after ten hours. We were so excited to see the outline of our camp against the sunset sky. No one had missed us, since it was still light outside at 7pm."

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Portrait: Fran Ellis

In October, 2010 I photographed a member of the Tule Lake Committee: Fran Ellis. Not only does Fran live within two miles of my home, she was the first person I've photographed who was born in one of the War Relocation Camps.

Fran Ellis' dad was drafted into the U.S. Army in February, 1942, just a few days before President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. Fran's mom was four months pregnant in May of that year when the family got their order to leave their home and report to the Walerga (Sacramento) Assembly Center. The family appealed to the American Red Cross so that her dad could get a temporary leave from the Army in order to come home to help them pack up and report for internment. Fran was born in the Tule Lake concentration camp later that year.

(Photo by Andy Frazer)

Fran's father was a kibei, a term given to people of Japanese descent who were born in the United States, educated in Japan, then returned to the U.S. before the beginning of World War II.  Because of his valuable knowledge of the Japanese language, he was offered a position in the Military Intelligence Service, which worked to translate Japanese military communications. He refused the position due to ethical principles, so he was reduced to the rank of Army 'buck' Private from Army Private First Class, then sent to the 1800th Engineer General Service Battalion. This battalion consisted of soldiers who were considered trouble-makers by the military. Their responsibilities generally consisted of repairing ground that had been damaged by military tank exercises.

Today, Fran is on the Tule Lake Planning Committe for the Tule Lake Pilgrimages, as well as being a committee member of the Nihonmachi Outreach Committee

(Photo by Andy Frazer)

When I photographed Fran, we were also joined by Jacqueline Ramseyer, a photographer from the Bay Area News Group. Jacqueline was working on a newspaper article about my entire project. The article appeared in the Sunnyvale Sun a few weeks later, and was also picked up by the San Jose Mercury News a few days after appearing in the Sun.