February 19, 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which led to the resettlement of more than 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent to internment camps inside the country. The majority of them (approximately 112,000) were residents of the West Coast.
Without the commission, it’s likely graphic designer and photographer Jerry Takigawa would have been born in Monterey, California, near where he now lives in Carmel Valley. In fact, he was born in Chicago, where his family moved after their internment in a camp located in Jerome, Arkansas.
“There has been a lot of migration from the camps to the Midwestern states, in part because they may not have been as panicked and much more tolerant than the West Coast states they came from,” explains Takigawa, 75, whose recent project, Balancing cultures, is the culmination of a life shaped, in part, by an open secret. His parents rarely spoke of the years they were incarcerated in JÃ©rÃ´me, and Balancing cultures was a way for him to approach the subject from a distance.
âIt has been a long process of evolution to get to this point to be able to articulate this kind of message,â explains Takigawa, whose project is a photographic account of a family’s journey from immigration to incarceration to reinstatement. It’s a story he tells through a combination of found photographs superimposed on found objects from a dark time in his family’s history, which are then re-photographed.
âWithout realizing it, I’ve been working on it for many years. Under the guise of developing skills and doing other projects, I was actually working to do something like this.
Takigawa is the first prize winner of the Foto Forum Santa Fe 2021 Foto Forum Santa Fe Photography Award, which, in addition to a cash prize of $ 1,000, includes a two-month solo exhibition in the Foto Forum gallery.
He is known for his photo-collage work. As Balancing cultures, his work often has a social and political dimension, and touches on questions of identity.
“Humanistic black and white imagery is complemented by color representations of identity cards, war documents and other items that [exemplify] Takigawa’s refined minimalist aesthetic while effectively expanding the narrative of cultural resilience, âsays photographer and juror Harry Gamboa Jr. He chose Takigawa, he says, because of the visionary use of documentary photography by the artist in the creation of perceptual images that convey a personal and collective personality. to live.
Takigawa’s project focuses on a time and a place, but also on the fragile nature of memory. Specifically, it explores the ambiguous nature of memories held by someone who has not had direct experience with their family’s incarceration, but has felt the effects of generational trauma. Every photograph found is deliberately blurred to capture that aspect of what, for Takigawa, was an obscure chapter in his family’s history, at least for the first 40 years of his life.
âIt has to do with the past and the disappearance of memories,â he says. “On the other hand, blurring the images of my own family opens the door for other people to imagine their family or people in their lives who were in this situation.”
The objects arranged, sharp and in color, are a vivid reminder that the camps were a reality.
In Citizen’s leave of indefinite duration (2017), for example, the fuzzy portrait of her parents is covered with War Department documents and her parents’ pale green âCitizen’s Indefinite Leaveâ cards, which were issued to them upon release. All images in the series include an object of a fleeting nature, such as leaves, paper boats, and flowers. In Citizen’s leave of indefinite duration, this object is a sprig of white flowers, which gives the image the poignant character of honor and beauty. The image marks the beginning of a period of reintegration.
For decades, her family rarely spoke about their time in the internment camp. Although there were instances where the word “camp” was mentioned, it was, he said, incidental. They never discussed their experience with him in depth.
âIt was a time marker, and it was a place marker,â he says. âBut they weren’t talking about politics, racism or hate. I think they wanted me not to feel what they felt for the government and for the country, because they didn’t want something bad to happen to me. They wanted me to feel perfectly American and satisfied with it, when they probably harbored feelings of real disappointment and, at times, anger about what had happened to them.
But two things happened that put Takigawa on the path to development Balancing cultures. First, in the 1980s, rights groups and a second generation of Americans of Japanese descent sought redress from the United States government. And it sparked many family conversations among the elders of Takigawa.
âI took some of it, but it didn’t really get recorded,â he says. âI had my own life and tried to do my own things. I didn’t really take advantage of being able to ask the questions you’re thinking about later.
Then came the discovery of the photographs.
âAfter my mother died, we were cleaning the house and I saw these boxes of photographs. I saw these photos of them in the camp. Being a photographer was like a check. All of a sudden it just got a lot more real and tangible than any stories they could possibly be able to tell.
In one of Takigawa’s works, A Japanese is a Japanese (2018), a piece of paper bears a quote from Lieutenant-General John L. DeWitt, who oversaw the internment of Japanese-Americans during the war. âA Jap is a Jap,â one reads. âIt doesn’t make any difference whether he’s a US citizen or not. “
But DeWitt’s blatantly xenophobic statement contrasts with another, which overlays the image of Takigawa’s mother in the photo This world, February 8, 1942 (2016): âThe vast majority of our aliens are harmless people, desperate to stay out of trouble and obey our laws. The quote appears to be attributed to a US Senator, whose name is obscured by a pink and white scarf, draped over the image.
âI tried to imagine what it was like for my parents and grandparents to live in such an angry and hateful society, and it was an emotional time for me. These feelings that they had to endure, even though they didn’t reveal it to me, were essentially transferred by the magic of silence. Children discover things like this. It colors your life.
The specter of Takigawa’s parents’ wishes persists. They were reluctant to talk about their internment, but he does. How they might have reacted if he had completed the project while they were still living is an open question.
âI really think they would be proud of it,â says Takigawa, who won the CENTER’s Curator’s Choice award for the project in 2018 and came to Santa Fe to give a presentation on it.
The day before his artist speech, he had a dream.
âMy dad was sort of mad at me for some reason. I woke up thinking ‘I wonder if he doesn’t really want me to say anything about this.’ But the more I thought about it, the thing they did by not talking about it at all was trying to protect me. I re-read his anger in the dream to signify that he was more concerned about my own safety. I had to decide if I could speak and tell the story, because they couldn’t.