Nick Ut: A Photographer for All Seasons

Photographer Nick Ut covering the war in Cambodia in 1971. All photos courtesy of Nick Ut.

Leslie Unger, JANM’s Director of Marketing, reminisces about her professional encounters with the legendary photographer Nick Ut, who will be speaking at JANM on June 8.

Before coming to work at JANM, I worked for over 19 years at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (best known for presenting the Oscars), handling a variety of communications and media relations responsibilities. During my time there, I met Nick Ut of the Associated Press—one of the many, many photographers who lined the red carpet on Oscar night.

Shortly after meeting him, I learned that Nick had taken one of the most famous, iconic images in the history of photography, that of a young Vietnamese girl running toward the camera, her clothing burned from her body by napalm. I was astounded—and proud!—that I now knew this acclaimed photographer, and somewhat puzzled that the person who had captured an image that literally helped change the world was now taking pictures in the entertainment world.

I guess when you win a Pulitzer Prize at age 22 for a wartime image that is seared into the minds of millions, snapping some celebrity shots might be a welcome change. Not that Nick didn’t take this work seriously, but let’s face it: while red carpets may be full of battling egos, there are no napalm bombs getting dropped.

Nick Ut with Kim Phuc, the young Vietnamese girl pictured in his iconic 1972 photograph, at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC, in 2009. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

Each year after, when Nick would come by the press office during the days leading up to the Academy Awards, I would make sure I stopped what I was doing in order to say hello to him and, more importantly, make sure that new people working in the office knew who he was—that he had taken a photo that was truly historic. I wanted to make sure everyone knew about Nick and about that photo. He was always gracious during these introductions. I never knew him to be boastful of his accomplishments, but I felt he was rightfully proud and not embarrassed to be called out for them.

After I left the Academy, I went to work for the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association. It didn’t occur to me that my path would cross with Nick’s there, but sure enough, it did. On the morning of a press conference to announce the year’s Royal Court, there was Nick. After smiles and hugs—typical of his warmth and friendly demeanor—I once again made sure that my co-workers knew exactly who Nick was.

Nick Ut poses in front of a Vietnam War helicopter in Nebraska earlier this year. Photo by Mark Harris.
By 2015, I was working at JANM and hadn’t seen Nick for a couple of years. One day, I met Stefanie Davis from the Museum of Ventura County, who was visiting JANM. In the course of casual conversation, she mentioned that her museum was going to be presenting an exhibition and public programs tied to the anniversary of the fall of Saigon. Hearing this, I immediately thought of Nick and I asked Stefanie if she knew of him. She didn’t, but expressed interest in getting in touch to see if he might participate in a museum event.

I emailed Nick about what was happening in Ventura and was thrilled to receive a phone call from him that same day. We spoke for several minutes and he gave me the OK to share his contact info with the Ventura museum person. I did, but I’m sorry to say I don’t know what, if anything, came of the connection.

That was a little more than two years ago. Nick has since retired from the AP—in fact, he did so just recently. But he’s going to be at JANM on June 8 for a discussion about his life and career and you better believe I’m going to be there, too. I won’t have to tell anyone who Nick is—he’ll be telling them himself.

Nick Ut and Leslie Unger reunite at Ut’s talk at JANM on June 8.

Uprooted Presents a Rarely Seen Slice of Japanese American History; Can You Help Identify Subjects in the Photos?

Laborers in sugar beet fields outside of Shelley, Idaho. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection, LC-USF34-073809-E.
Laborers in sugar beet fields outside of Shelley, Idaho. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection, LC-USF34-073809-E.

Between 1942 and 1944, thousands of incarcerated Japanese Americans were moved from assembly centers and concentration camps to farm labor camps as a way to mitigate the wartime labor shortage. In the summer of 1942, Farm Security Administration (FSA) photographer Russell Lee—best known for his series on Pie Town, New Mexico—documented four such camps in Oregon and Idaho, capturing the laborers’ day-to-day lives in evocative detail. Many of these photographs, which capture a little-recorded episode of American history, have never before been exhibited.

On September 27, JANM will open Uprooted: Japanese American Farm Labor Camps During World War II, which showcases a selection of Lee’s images accompanied by his original captions. Curated by Morgen Young in collaboration with the Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission (OCHC), the exhibition seeks to contextualize the photographer’s work within the history of the FSA as well as Japanese American camp life in the two states. Uprooted will be on view through January 8, 2017.

For an illuminating look at the origins of this exhibition, read our Discover Nikkei interview with curator Morgen Young. A consulting historian based in Portland, Oregon, Young studied the FSA photography program in graduate school. Working on Uprooted has taught her much about Japanese American history, and she believes that the farm labor camps are an important and under-recognized part of that history. In her own words: “These individuals and families volunteered for agricultural labor—they went into new environments, where they didn’t know how they would be received by the local communities. They contributed directly to the war effort and still have not received the recognition they deserve for their efforts.”

Uprooted is a multi-pronged project that includes the traveling physical exhibition, oral history interviews with subjects in the photographs who were identified by viewers, documentary videos, school curricula, and a comprehensive website. A visit to the website is a great idea both before and after your visit to the exhibition; there, you can learn more about the farm labor camps, review copies of official documents, watch excerpts of oral history videos, view photos of the camps taken by people who lived in them, download lesson plans, and more.

The Twin Falls, Idaho labor camp operated year-round two miles south of the city. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection, LC-USF34-073759-D.
The Twin Falls, Idaho labor camp operated year-round two miles south of the city. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection, LC-USF34-073759-D.

Help Identify People in the Photographs

When you come to see Uprooted, pay close attention to the people in the photographs. Do you recognize anyone? Efforts to identify the subjects in Russell Lee’s photographs are still ongoing; according to Young, no one in the Idaho camp images has been identified, and the organizers are hoping that LA visitors will be able to help. A photo identification binder will be made available for visitors to write down possible names and/or details about the subjects’ lives.

James Tanaka, a JANM docent, has already come forward to share his story of living in the Twin Falls camp as a child; information about Tanaka and his family is available here.

Photographer’s Son Featured in “Learning at Lunch”

Frank Sata shows us his own personal favorite photograph by his father, J.T. Sata. Photo by Ben Furuta.
Frank Sata shows us his own personal favorite photograph
by his father, J.T. Sata. Photo by Ben Furuta.

 

One of my favorite Members Only events here at JANM is the collections-based series, Learning at Lunch. Members can bring a brown bag lunch and sit back as our knowledgeable Collections Manager, Maggie Wetherbee, showcases unique and often unseen artifacts from JANM’s collections. One past session explored JANM’s intricate and beautiful bird pin collection, while another looked at paper artifacts—such as letters, photographs, and menus—that revealed how Thanksgiving was celebrated in the camps and by members of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

Is it a plant? Is it a bug? Frank Sata says it reminds him of Star Wars. Photograph by J.T. Sata. Japanese American National Museum. Partial and promised gift of Frank and Marian Sata and Family.
Is it a plant? Is it a bug? Frank Sata says it reminds him of Star Wars. Photograph by J.T. Sata. Japanese American National Museum. Partial and promised gift of Frank and Marian Sata and Family.

The most recent edition of Learning at Lunch took place last Friday. It was extra special, as we were joined by Frank Sata, son of photographer J.T. Sata, who is a featured artist in our current exhibition, Making Waves: Japanese American Photography, 1920–1940. Frank, a well-known architect, also has a unique connection to JANM: he was an instrumental part of the architectural team that renovated the museum’s Historic Building.

Frank began his presentation by sharing family photographs and personal stories about his family’s history and journey. He then shared some of his father’s photographs that are in JANM’s collection but not on view in the exhibition.

During this portion, classical music played in the background as a tribute to his father, who loved classical music; Frank also felt that the lyrical images deserved lyrical accompaniment. These photographs were not only breathtaking but also showcased J.T. Sata’s immense skill and artistic sensibility. Some of my favorites are featured here.

I see feathers here. Photograph by J.T. Sata. Japanese American National Museum. Partial and promised gift of Frank and Marian Sata and Family.
I see feathers here. Photograph by J.T. Sata. Japanese American National Museum. Partial and promised gift of Frank and Marian Sata and Family.

 

We were also treated to slides of J.T. Sata’s other works, including charcoal drawings of the Santa Anita Assembly Center and vibrant paintings from the family’s time at the Jerome concentration camp in Arkansas. Overall, the presentation was truly moving and such a unique opportunity to hear Frank share his personal insights about his father and his father’s work.

This was J.T. Sata's favorite photograph. Photograph by J.T. Sata. Japanese American National Museum. Partial and promised gift of Frank and Marian Sata and Family.
This was J.T. Sata’s favorite photograph. Photograph by J.T. Sata.
Japanese American National Museum. Partial and promised gift of Frank and Marian Sata and Family.

 

Making Waves will be on view through June 26. You can watch a short film about J.T. Sata made by JANM’s Frank H. Watase Media Arts Center here.

Alison Wong is JANM’s Membership Coordinator.

JANM Opens Two New Photography Exhibitions

Making Waves curator Dennis Reed speaks to a packed house at the Members Only exhibition preview event. Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
Making Waves curator Dennis Reed speaks to a packed house at the Members Only exhibition preview event. Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.

 

On the weekend of February 27–28, JANM opened two new exhibitions, Making Waves: Japanese American Photography, 1920–1940 and Two Views: Photographs by Ansel Adams and Leonard Frank. A Members Only Preview Day, featuring a talk and book signing by Making Waves curator Dennis Reed and a dessert reception, took place on Saturday the 27th, followed by the public opening on Sunday the 28th.

In a special corner of the Making Waves exhibition, guests are invited to play with light and shadow and upload photos of their results to social media with the hashtag #JANMMakingWaves. Photo by JANM.
In a special corner of the Making Waves exhibition, guests are invited to
play with light and shadow and upload photos of their results to social media with the hashtag #JANMMakingWaves. Photo by JANM.

 

The response to these two exhibitions, one of which examines the lost legacy of early 20th-century Japanese American art photographers while the other features documentation of the World War II incarceration of both Japanese Americans and Japanese Canadians by iconic photographers, has been very strong. Attendance throughout the weekend was high as both members and non-members excitedly viewed the two new exhibitions.

JANM members enjoy a dessert buffet at the Members Only reception for Making Waves and Two Views. Photo by JANM.
JANM members enjoy a dessert buffet at the Members Only reception for Making Waves and Two Views. Photo by JANM.

On Members Only Preview Day, more than 200 guests crowded into Aratani Central Hall to listen to Dennis Reed’s talk, which explored the lives and work of several of the artists in Making Waves. The families of those artists were present in the audience; earlier in the day, JANM had hosted a private luncheon in their honor.

Los Angeles Times chief art critic Christopher Knight has penned a thoughtful and enthusiastic review of Making Waves, calling it “an absorbing, must-see exhibition” that features “some of the most adventurous avant-garde photographs in the years between the two World Wars.” He raves about the achievements of the photographers in the show, providing a detailed aesthetic analysis, and also recounts the tragic circumstances that cut them short. If you read Christopher Knight regularly, you know that a rave review from him is no small thing!

Dennis Reed (second from left) with Sadao Kimura, Alan Miyatake, and Minnie Takahashi at a special private luncheon held for family members of the photographers featured in Making Waves. Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
Dennis Reed (second from left) with Sadao Kimura, Alan Miyatake, and Minnie Takahashi at a special private luncheon held for family members of the photographers featured in Making Waves. Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.

 

Many excellent programs are planned in conjunction with these two exhibitions, including gallery tours, panel discussions, and more. A Members Only edition of Learning at Lunch will take place this Friday at 12:15 p.m., featuring guest speaker Frank Sata, son of photographer J.T. Sata, who is featured in Making Waves. A Members Only tour of Making Waves, led by Dennis Reed, will be offered this Saturday morning at 10:30 a.m.; its focus will be on the photographers who worked in Los Angeles. Visit janm.org/events for details. Making Waves will be on view until June 26, while Two Views closes April 24.

Dennis Reed shows the audience an example of a vintage camera. Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
Dennis Reed shows the audience an example of a vintage camera.
Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.

Richard Murakami: Documenting JANM’s History through Photographs

L to R: Volunteer photographers Russell Kitagawa, Gary Ono, and Richard Watanabe with WWII veteran photographer Sus Ito, JANM President and CEO Greg Kimura, and JANM event photo coordinator and librarian Richard Murakami.
L to R: Volunteer photographers Russell Kitagawa, Gary Ono, and
Richard Watanabe with WWII veteran photographer Sus Ito, JANM
President and CEO Greg Kimura, and JANM event photo coordinator
and librarian Richard Murakami.

 

Richard Murakami has been volunteering at JANM for 21 years and documenting the museum’s history for almost as long. He doesn’t claim to be a photographer or even in charge of JANM’s corps of volunteer photographers; rather, he prefers to think of himself as the museum’s event photo coordinator and librarian.

It all started in 1994, when Richard attended the members’ opening reception for America’s Concentration Camps: Remembering the Japanese Experience and noticed that no one was taking pictures. With a Canon camera that he’d brought from home, he began shooting. He then had two sets of photographs printed and gave the prints and the negatives to JANM for the purpose of starting a repository of images of this type. This task that he saw as a necessity soon grew into his main role and contribution to the museum.

Richard has never taken any photography lessons. “I’m too lazy to go to class,” he says. “So how I learned is, I would take the prints to Kimura Photo Mart and I would say, how can I improve this photo? And they would tell me what to do, and that’s how I learned.”

A total of 12 photographers, including Richard, now help to document the many events and occasions that happen at this busy museum. In the past seven years, they have only missed three JANM events. “I just think these photographers are really great!” Richard enthuses. “You know I can’t say enough good things about them. I really praise and brag about them a lot, they are so good.”

522nd Service Battery personnel, near Rosignano, Italy, 1944. Japanese American National Museum, Sus Ito Collection. Now on view as part of the exhibition Before They Were Heroes: Sus Ito’s World War II Images.
522nd Service Battery personnel, near Rosignano, Italy, 1944.
Japanese American National Museum, Sus Ito Collection. Now on view as part of
the exhibition Before They Were Heroes: Sus Ito’s World War II Images.

 

Some of the volunteer photographers (Steve Fujimoto, Russell Kitagawa, Gary Ono, Richard Murakami, and Richard Watanabe) recently sponsored the Upper Level Members Reception for the opening of Before They Were Heroes: Sus Ito’s World War II Images, an exhibition of photographs taken by Ito while he was on a tour of duty through Europe as a member of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

The reception was a natural fit for the group since the exhibition is about photography, but for Richard, it was also about honoring the 442nd veterans. “They opened the door for people like me who followed, so I owe them a lot,” he said.

Like Richard, Sus Ito also considers himself an amateur photographer. “I think he has an eye for photography,” Richard reflects. “Some people just point and shoot. With Sus, it’s what he took and when he took it that’s important. And whoever picked out those photos to include in the exhibition and tell the story—that person has an eye too.”

Richard’s official day to volunteer at the museum is every Friday, but you can often find him here multiple days of the week, sitting in his office in front of his Apple computer. In addition to coordinating the volunteer photographers and photographing events himself, he also inventories and organizes all the images. “When staff members need photos, they ask me and I find them. I’m probably the only one who really knows where they are.”

This post was researched and written by JANM Executive Assistant Nicole Miyahara. In addition to her duties at JANM, Nicole is an ethnographic documentary filmmaker who is currently working on The Making of a King, a documentary that explores the world of drag kings, the lesser-known counterpart to drag queens.

Sus Ito and the Rescue of the Lost Battalion

This week, JANM opened Before They Were Heroes: Sus Ito’s World War II Images, the first exhibition in Sharing Our Stories, a new series drawn from JANM’s extensive permanent collection. The exhibition looks at WWII photographs taken by Susumu “Sus” Ito while on a tour of duty through Europe as a member of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team’s 522nd Field Artillery Battalion.

While Ito participated in such dramatic events as the rescue of the Lost Battalion and the liberation of a sub-camp of Dachau, the majority of the photographs capture the humble daily lives of a group of young Japanese American soldiers. In the essay below, JANM Curator of History Lily Anne Yumi Welty Tamai, PhD, takes an in-depth look at one of the images featured in the exhibition. Read on for a riveting account of the rescue of the Lost Battalion and its aftermath, as experienced by soldiers who lived through it.

Japanese American National Museum. Sus Ito Collection.
Japanese American National Museum.
Sus Ito Collection.

“We were in a number of dangerous situations. But the five days that I spent with ‘I’ Company and this mission, were really the most memorable. It was five days where I didn’t remember days from nights.” —Sus Ito, from JANM oral history interview, 2014.

In the last week of October 1944, after ten days of fighting to liberate Belmont, Biffontaine, and Bruyères in northeastern France, the segregated all-Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team received new orders. Without rest or time to recuperate, they were sent on a mission to rescue the 1st Battalion of the 141st Infantry Regiment, made up of men from Texas. The soldiers of the 141st were trapped behind enemy lines and surrounded by German troops in eastern France with very little food, water, and medical supplies. Two other units had tried to rescue the so-called Lost Battalion without success; the Germans had a tremendous advantage in terms of position, and ambushed the American troops from their sniper nests.

There were no real roads in the mountains, just trails, and most were too narrow for large tanks. The forest was so dense in some areas that they had little to no visibility. Veteran George Oiye of the 442nd’s 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, “C” Battery, remembered the conditions: “The rain, snow, heavy clouds, dark fog, and the huge carpet of pine trees overhead made it hard to tell day from night.” It took six days of intense fighting to rescue the Lost Battalion. Out of the 800 Nisei soldiers who fought, around 600 suffered casualties in the process of rescuing 211 men.

“I saw so many wounded and dying fellow soldiers. There were friends holding their comrades in their arms. I ran into ‘I’ Company, which at that point only had four guys with a PFC (private first class)—Clarence Taba—in charge … the fighting had been that fierce.” —S. Don Shimazu, veteran of the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, Headquarters Battery.

Japanese American National Museum. Sus Ito Collection.
Japanese American National Museum.
Sus Ito Collection.

 

General John Dahlquist had sent the Japanese American unit on this mission knowing the odds for success were slim. Years later, as told in the book Japanese American History (edited by Brian Niiya), U.S. Senator and 442nd veteran Daniel K. Inouye recalled: “I am absolutely certain that all of us were well aware that we were being used for the rescue because we were expendable.” Despite these circumstances, they all fought valiantly.

Sus Ito did not take many photographs during the actual rescue of the Lost Battalion. However, he did take one of Sgt. George Thompson (above) after the battle was over. Thompson was not even supposed to fight on the front lines, but he had begged Ito for an assignment so he could see what war was really like. Ito agreed, allowing George to carry an extra set of radio batteries for the unit.

Reflecting on this striking photograph, Ito said: “George Thompson didn’t put his hands in front of him because he was down, or because he hated the thought of war. He was just trying to hide. Maybe he was trying to erase some of the images of what the Lost Battalion mission was like.”

When remembering the mission to rescue the Lost Battalion, Ito said: “We were fighting against an enemy we could not see. To this day when I walk into a dark forest on a bright day—or even when I think about it—I get goose bumps.”

To hear more of these stories and learn more about our exhibition, be sure to catch Dr. Lily Anne Tamai’s Behind the Scenes Lecture on July 25. The program is free with museum admission, but RSVPs are recommended here.

2012 Gala Dinner & After Party photos

Thank you to everyone who supported our 2012 Gala Dinner & Silent Auction!

Here are a few photos from the Gala Dinner and the After Party, plus links to a LOT more photos from the night.

Yosh Uchida, Deni & Norman Mineta, and Gordon Yamate
Yosh Uchida, Deni & Norman Mineta, and Gordon Yamate

One of our volunteer photographers, Tracy Kumono, has produced a short slide show of the evening’s highlights, which she has graciously allowed us to share with everyone.

JANM President/CEO G.W. Kimura with Tomoshige Mizutani

View the slideshow >>

She also has the complete set of photos (750+) on her website, from which you can order individual prints. You will need to enter your name and email address to enter the gallery and order prints directly from her.

View the Dinner photos and order prints >>

Kaji Family

Wyatt Conlon was our “Red Carpet” and “After Party” photographer. He has put an album together. You can order prints directly from him as well. If you would like to order individual prints, simply enter the code word “gala” to receive a 20% discount off your purchase.

View the Red Carpet and After Party photos >>

We are interested in hearing your comments of the evening. If you’d like to share your thoughts, please send us an email to specialevents@janm.org.

Thank you!

John, Josh, and Jack Morey
T. Candice Nakagawa, George Tanaka, and Guest

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photos by Tracy Kumono & Wyatt Conlon

Documenting Manzanar

We recently finished posting a wonderful essay about the documentation of Manzanar during World War II by Nancy Matsumoto on our Discover Nikkei website. It’s quite an extensive piece which we posted in 18 parts. There’s also great historic photographs that accompany each part.

Source: War Relocation Authority Photographs of Japanese-American Evacuation and Resettlement Series 8: Manzanar Relocation Center

Documenting Manzanar
By Nancy Matsumoto
Read the essay >>

The article focuses especially on three photographers—Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, and Toyo Miyatake, but also about the documentation of Manzanar in art and in books by artists and authors like Miné Okubo, Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, and Michi Weglyn.

It also examines various books and exhibitions, including the Ansel Adams exhibition here at JANM. It also references Two Views of Manzanar, an exhibition and book created by graduate students in the UCLA Fine Arts Program in the late 1970s. One of the students was Patrick Nagatani, whose works will be on display here in a retrospective exhibition opening next weekend.

As I’m writing this, I realize that we have something in our collections, exhibitions, and projects related to pretty much all of these things I’ve mentioned. We’ve just released the Farewell to Manzanar DVD based on the book & screenplay written by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and her husband. Our collections staff is currently working on a project to conserve & digitize Miné Okubo’s original drawings from Citizen 13660 (generously
supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities’ “We The People” project), and we have original design sketches by Michi Weglyn from her days as a costume designer in New York.

These types of realizations tend to happen often. That’s one of the great things about working at the museum so long…getting to see how different aspects of our history and culture fit together. It also goes to show how inter-related the Japanese American community is!

Interview with Patrick Nagatani

We recently interviewed artist Patrick Nagatani and his upcoming retrospective exhibition opening at JANM next weekend. Check out the article on our Discover Nikkei website:

Seeing Beauty Through a Magic Lens: Patrick Nagatani and 35 Years of Art
By Darryl Mori
Read the interview >>

We also just launched the exhibition site which includes more information, including:

– short blurbs about the various series included in the exhibition

– prompts for the upcoming Guide by Cell audio guide that is being prepared with Patrick Nagatani

– an article about the exhibition by Lisa Sasaki who coordinated the travel of the show from the University of New Mexico’s University Art Museum. This is my favorite quote from the artist about why Nagatani feels that JANM is a perfect venue for the exhibition:

“This is the place that my parents will come to see my work. This is the place where it belongs.”

Check out the exhibition site >>

Photo courtesy of Karen Kuehn