Whether or not we are aware of it—everyone is a victim of discrimination, some more than others,
sometimes more blatant than subtle, sometimes “positive” rather than “negative”, but each of us is
“carefully taught”. What we do with these feelings of blame, guilt, being less-than, not as good as…
is what we make of our lives.
I am a white woman born two years to the day after the order came to forcibly remove all Japanese Americans on Bainbridge Island, WA. They were given six days to pack up their worldly belongings, find someone to care for their strawberry fields, ripe for picking, put only what they could carry into a suitcase, take a ferry to Seattle, then travel by train to Manzanar—a concentration camp located in the Owens Valley of central California. At one time, Manzanar had been an Eden--home to Paiutes, gold seekers, farmers and ranchers, and those just getting by. All were displaced one after the other, all were told their lives were not worth the staying on. They left their dead and memories. By 1942 Manzanar’s precious water had been drained into Los Angeles. It was a dust bowl, a bleak desert, a miserable place to try to live, even in the best of circumstances.
The history of Manzanar and the other nine concentration camps where over 110,000 Japanese Americans were imprisoned during World War II has been well documented by many artists. I have photographed there for over 30 years. Why? I can’t pretend to feel the same as the Japanese who lived and died there, I cannot see it through their eyes. But I can feel and share their pain.
Like Jeanne Wakatsuki, the author of Farewell To Manzanar, who was a seven-year-old when her family arrived there, I too “have learned to live with this double impulse: the urge to disappear and the desperate desire to be acceptable”. And like Jeanne, I too believe in ghosts and spirits. I know when I am at Manzanar, I feel the presence of those who died there. I see and photograph their ghosts and some of my own. We share that burden.
Words and photographs are a release of that burden—both for the artist and the viewer. Manzanar is a keeper of the souls of all who were maimed, or killed or simply displaced in the name of a “higher truth”.
The truth: most of those imprisoned at Manzanar survived with dignity and grace; they managed to make home and community even when hope of coming out alive was in question. It became a place of beauty and wretchedness, simultaneously; landscape and history entwined, and still is one of the most compelling places on this earth. Manzanar as a repository of souls, is a deeply spiritual place. Discovering this beauty, this spirituality of place is my intent for these photographs:
Much more than a remembered place, it had become a state of mind. Now, having seen it, I no longer wanted to lose it or to have those years erased. Having found it, I could say what you can only say when you’ve truly come to know a place: Farewell-- JWH
Jeanne and millions of other minorities subjected to physical and psychological brutality on a daily basis because of being “different”, survive and tell their stories, stories that “could never happen again”. Since Sept. 11, and the financial collapse, these same reports repeat over and over, with only slight variation on who is oppressed: people of “color”, with physical and mental disabilities, poor, homeless, middle-eastern, GLBT, and on and on. Must we leave this country to say “Farewell”, or can the “non-others” learn enough from all our stories, past and present, to say: “Welcome”?
Notes On The Photographs
I have chosen to display these photographs in installation. Images are printed on Japanese mulberry paper, then assembled into a scroll fabricated from hand-made Thai bark. Each is about 52”x30”. In the best of all possible worlds, each scroll would hang outside in the garden remnants at Manzanar, and be allowed to dissolve into spirits who inhabit this concentration place of all souls.