Photojournalism Now: Friday Round Up – 25 October 2019

This week on Photojournalism Now: Friday Round Up – American photographer Paul Kitagaki Jr’s long-term project on the incarceration of American-Japanese during WWII is now a book Behind Barbed Wire. Plus the winners of this year’s Australian Photography Awards.


2019 Australian Photography Awards

In 2019 there were 11 categories awarded in the Australian Photography Awards – Portrait, Landscape, Aerial, Documentary, Travel / Street, Wildlife, Mobile, Film / Analogue, Open / Illustrative, Student, Junior and Peoples Choice. And the winners are…

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Paul Kitagaki Jr – Behind Barbed Wire: Searching for Japanese Americans Incarcerated During World War II


One of America’s darkest hours came in 1942 when the Roosevelt government ordered Japanese American citizens be removed from their homes and sent to internment camps in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbour. 

I remember seeing the photographs that Dorothea Lange took for the military of this shameful mass incarceration, pictures that were kept hidden for decades. More than 100,000 people were rounded up, babies, old people, those who were frail and ailing, teenagers, business people. No one was left untouched. 

Now a new book Behind Barbed Wire – Searching for Japanese Americans Incarcerated During World War II reveals the personal toll of this heinous act by a government against its own people. Paul Kitagaki Jr. is a third generation Japanese American. He is also an award-winning photojournalist who has been published widely and currently is on-staff at the Sacramento Bee in California.

This is a very personal story for Kitagaki. His parents and their families were rounded up and incarcerated for the duration of the war, along with thousands of other Japanese Americans. This is despite the fact that they were American citizens and many, including the Kitagaki’s, had sons serving in the American armed forces.

Kitagaki learned about this ugly moment in his country’s history at high school in the 1970s. His parents never talked about what had happened to them during the war. He writes “the revelation of Roosevelt’s order in my American history class made me hungry for more.” It also made him angry.

He began to do his own research, which included Lange’s photographs, which “showed the humanity and suffering of people who looked like me. Somehow, she had the ability to capture the moment when a person’s life changed.”

Discovering this shocking history also changed Kitagaki’s life. Pouring through Lange’s 900 images at the Library of Congress in Washington DC, he uncovered pictures of his own grandparents, and also his father who was 14 years old at the time.

“Dad looked dazed, sad and shocked, as if he was wondering what would come next.”

"Gambatte! Legacy of an Enduring Spirit:Triumphing over Adversity. Japanese American WWII Incarceration Reflections Then and Now."
Paul Kitagaki Jr’s family waits to depart from 1117 Oak Street, the W.C.C.A. (Wartime Civil Control Authority) Control Station, in Oakland in 1942 for the Tanforan Assembly Center. Kitagakií’s grandmother, Juki Kitagaki, 53, is seated at left. Kimiko, his aunt, then 11, receives a pamphlet from a family friend, Dorothy Hightower, expressing her church ís good wishes. Grandfather Suyematsu Kitagaki, 65, watches. The photographer, and Paul’s father, Kiyoshi, 14, is at right. (C) Dorothea Lange 1942.  
Original Caption: Oakland, Calif.–Mr. and Mrs. Kitagaki with two of their children at the WCCA Control Station a few minutes before departure by bus for Tanforan Assembly Center. A local church member is handing Kimiko Kitagaki a pamphlet expressing the good wishes of the church toward the departing evacuees. Mr. Kitagaki, prior to evacuation, was in the cleaning and dyeing business.  

Kitagaki says he “wanted to find out what happened to the people in the pictures” including his own family. He wanted understand what had happened, to know the events of which his parents and grandparents had never spoken about.

In 2005 his journey to began, but it was a slow process and after seven years he had identified only twelve survivors from the pictures in the archives. But as his project attracted publicity more came forward and a collective experience emerged.

"Gambatte! Legacy of an Enduring Spirit:Triumphing over Adversity. Japanese American WWII Incarceration Reflections Then and Now."
Kimiko Kitagaki Wong and Paul Kiyoshi Kitagaki return in 2005 to the Oakland building where the East Bay evacuees were sent to camps. Their father, Suyematsu, arrived in America at age 27 in 1904. He started the Sunset Laundry in San Francisco but moved to Oakland after the 1906 earthquake. Then he started the Arthur Dyeing and Cleaning Works in Oaklandís Piedmont neighborhood, and the family lived in the back of the building. After returning from camp, Suyematsu was unable to restart his business and worked as a domestic cleaning homes in Piedmont. Kimiko and Kiyoshi were at the Paramount Theater watching a movie when Pearl Harbor was attacked, and they didnít learn about it until they left the theater. When the family was forced to leave, they stored items at the Oakland Buddhist church and with Dorothy Hightowerís family. Kiyoshi Kitagaki left the Topaz incarceration camp to finished high school in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1945, then enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force in 1946. After his military service, he enrolled at San Francisco State College and became a high school teacher in San Francisco. Sept. 18, 2005. Oakland, Calif. (C) 2012 Paul Kitagaki Jr.

The book features the stories and photographs of 61 people and Kitagaki has paired the original photograph from the archives with the black and white picture he took so many years later.

There are three chapters: In the name of security; Toward armed soldiers; and Japanese Americans Banished, which gives the book structure and leads the reader on the journey. At the end is a map of the camps and you can see their spread across the country. 

"Gambatte! Legacy of an Enduring Spirit:Triumphing over Adversity. Japanese American WWII Incarceration Reflections Then and Now."
The store in the photo was on the southwest corner of Eighth and Franklin streets in downtown Oakland. Tetsuo Masuda, a graduate of UC Berkeley, took over the business after his sisters, Mineko and Yoshiko, left for camp. The “I am an American” sign was his creation. Their father, Torasaburo Masuda, the first son of a samurai, died in 1934. He started the Masuda Company, a grocery store, in 1900 and later formed the Wanto Shokai with partners in 1916, becoming sole owner in 1931. After Executive Order 9066 was issued, the family moved to Fresno County, hoping they would not be evacuated, but they ended up at a camp in Gila River, Arizona. Minekoís daughter, Karen Hashimoto, was born in Sanger, Calif., in May 1942, but spent most of her first three years at Gila River. Her mother didn’t talk about it. “She only told me that to get cool I used to sit underneath a dripping faucet,” Karen said. “And to this day, I cannot tolerate heat.”  Courtesy of: The Bancroft Library University of California Berkeley, CA.

I wrote about Kitagaki’s project for Photojournalism Now in 2015 and am excited to now see it as a book. This is an incredibly important body of work that draws focus on the individuals who were the victims of a reactionary government who took aim at its own people. We are seeing the same kind of racial vilification and rhetoric in American today. This book reminds us why intolerance is not acceptable and that our humanity is what connects us all.

"Gambatte! Legacy of an Enduring Spirit:Triumphing over Adversity. Japanese American WWII Incarceration Reflections Then and Now."
Cousins Gerry Naruo, 68, Karen Hashimoto, 73, and Ted Tanisawa, 71, were photographed at the very place where their family’s store, Wanto Shokai, used to be. (C) 2016 Paul Kitagaki Jr.

Behind Barbed Wire is thoughtfully designed, and each story is introduced by a quote or a simple statement: “For decades, the identify of the grandfather and grandson remained a mystery” – this is how the story of Walter Sakawye and his grandfather Torazo begins. Walter shares that his grandfather “passed away, I think, more or less of a broken heart. In the picture, he just appears to be saying, ‘What’d I do? Why am I here?”  

"Gambatte! Legacy of an Enduring Spirit:Triumphing over Adversity. Japanese American WWII Incarceration Reflections Then and Now."
Walter Yoshiharu Sakawye, born in a Japanese hospital in East Los Angeles in 1941, was only 17 months old when he was photographed at Manzanar sitting on the shoulders of his paternal grandfather, Torazo Sakawye. Torazo was a truck farmer who had immigrated to the United States from Japan in 1902. He died in the internment camp at age 68. Walter’s brother died of diphtheria in 1946 and his father passed away later that year, after the Sakawyes returned to Venice — leaving only Walter and his mother, who had three brothers serving in the U.S. Army 442nd  Regimental Combat Team in Europe. One was killed in action. Still just a boy, he had lost his grandfather, brother, father and uncle in a short amount of time. Photograph (C) Dorothea Lange, 1942, Manzanar War Relocation Center, Owens Valley, Calif.

The book tells of the times in the camps and also the difficulties that people faced when they were released and tried to pick up their lives; they were not just removed from their homes, but had to relinquish their jobs and sell their businesses.

"Gambatte! Legacy of an Enduring Spirit:Triumphing over Adversity. Japanese American WWII Incarceration Reflections Then and Now."
Walter Sakawye was 76 and newly retired when he was photographed at his Texas home. He had graduated from Los Angeles High School in 1958, went to college and then trade school, and was drafted into the Army in 1961. He believes it’s important to keep telling the story of the internment.  “If you talk to people nowadays, especially the younger people, they don’t know what you’re talking about. ‘What internment camp? What’s that?’ It’s important for them to know that this thing did happen,” Walter said. But he doesn’t think history will repeat itself. “I don’t think they could pull it off now,” Walter said. “There would be civil unrest.” (C) Paul Kitagaki Jr., 2017.

The story of twins Tadao and Yukio Yoshikawa, who were just children when they were incarcerated is introduced by a quote that reflects the temperature of society at that time: ‘So when we first got back, they put mattresses up against our bedroom windows so that if somebody threw rocks we wouldn’t get injured.” The pair grew up to be rocket scientists giving back to a country that had turned against them. 

Kitagaki says that in creating the series, “I learned something about the incarceration from each person I met. The secrets and pain that my parents didn’t talk about…each had a story to tell….when their accounts are strung together and placed in the order that the original photographs were taken, the people I found tell a moving, coherent story of the incarceration. Some wanted to forget; some wanted to remember. Some lost everything, some found new direction. And all seemed determined to make sure it will never happen again.” So should we.

Behind Barbed Wire: Searching for Japanese Americans Incarcerated During World War II, Words and Photographs by Paul Kitagaki Jr. Available on Amazon.   

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