While I maintain the romantic belief that I can change the world with my pictures, I know from experience that meaningful long term photo projects usually change me more than the other way around. I can already feel the transformation now that I have started a new project about the Japanese American Internment Camp and The Art of Gaman.
Before a new project comes into focus, there is a paradoxical excitement that Robert Frost never quite captured. There are infinite roads and I want to rush down all of them at once… into the past and back to the future. There are so many more roads not taken than I was led to believe.
If there is such a thing as “an official start” to this new project, it began during the Dr. Martin Luther King, jr. Day On at the California Museum in Sacramento, on Sunday January 19, 2014. The next day I visited families in Reedley, California. Unofficially, the project began many years earlier when I met Carol Egoian at my local farmers’ market in Oakland. Carol lives in Reedley which is near my childhood home Fresno, California.
Even though I know Carol well, I did not learn about The Art of Gaman exhibits until last summer when Carol told me that she would miss a couple markets, because she was traveling with her family to Hiroshima for the exhibit’s Japanese opening. I wanted to go.
Delphine Hirusuna, the author of The Art of Gaman, describes the Japanese word “gaman” as “enduring the seemingly unbearable with patience and dignity.” I am not familiar with this term. I am not familiar with the concept, but I can already feel myself changing. I can feel my soul being carved and my heart breaking as I meet survivors and their families.
I also realize that my tendency to push past boundaries serves me well with this project. Sometimes. Do I have gaman? Probably not, I am too impatient, but I am kind and I can endure. At this point, patience is probably not as important as endurance and kindness. I also love meeting new people and hearing their stories. I already miss this family and this woman who told me how her father carved wood with broken glass. (The next day, she wore my glasses. Neither of us could see, but we felt better.)
By the time I arrived in Reedley the next day, I realized that I was onto a bigger story. Japanese Americans farmed Central California before World War II. Many lost their farms. Some returned and became successful farmers. What has happened now to the Central Valley farmer? Will I discover a lost Twilight Zone episode written by John Steinbeck where crowds march into a Walmart and a woman yells, “Grapes of Wrath! It’s not a Pulitzer Prize winning novel. It’s a guide book for big business!”
Does this story become a coffee table conversation that, to borrow a borrowed phrase, explores “what we talk about when we talk about the internment camps?.. or what we ignore? And why do so many Americans, especially those who look like me, ignore this topic? When Americans recite Pastor Niemöller’s poem, do we understand that we did not rescue people in Europe because we were busy in America.
Does this become a project about the aging of America or the aging of rural America? Will this project challenge how many Americans view the American Farmer? When Norman Rockwell envisioned America, did he imagine old Japanese ladies playing Shanghai off a country road? Who does?
Is this a project about the 442nd, the Japanese American version of the Tuskegee Airmen? Or will I find myself exploring the connection between the events of December 7 and 9/11? Are there emotional ripple effects when a government interns people and demands their loyalty?
and to see the world through another person’s lenses… even if they are blurry.