Beneath the Surface: Masumi Hayashi Dives into our Polluted
pieced together, the photo-collages of Masumi Hayashi,
now on display at the Japanese American National Museum,
seek to explore the manner in which the seemingly pristine
hides the horrors of pollution, both environmental and
exhibit, "Sights Unseen: The Photographic Constructions
of Masumi Hayashi," running through September 14th
at JANM, features a complete view of her artistic thesis,
each image a panoramic view of locales loaded with meanings
deeper than their pristine exteriors. By abstracting
these images so greatly through the use of dozens of
individual photographs, Hayashi forces the viewer to
look beyond the surface of these images, and explore
the pain that lies just beneath the surface.
initial exploration of EPA Superfund sites lays the
groundwork for her body of work. These sites, former
toxic waste dumps, are loaded with highly poisonous,
yet largely invisible, pollutants. The bucolic images
constructed of these landscapes, such as that of "EPA
Superfund Site 666," contrast highly with the severe
level of pollution that exists just below the surface.
meat of the exhibition, though, lies in Hayashi's images
of the remains of Japanese internment camps from World
War II. Born in the Gila River camp towards the end
of the war, Hayashi's highly abstract images of these
camps, worn down over years of abandonment, are all
the more powerful. A logical extension of the images
of her EPA Superfund images, Hayashi moves away from
physical pollution and focuses on the social and emotional
pollution that permeates the internment camp sites.
addition to images of camps in America, the exhibit
includes a series of works on internment camps in Canada,
a much less documented aspect of the mass-exclusion.
is a long-running theme in her works presented in this
show. A series of her work on abandoned prison buildings
further highlights the consistent view of the unseen
pollution of spaces.
end of the exhibit fills out her thesis quite well,
branching out from 'polluted' sites into locales that
are imbued with other socially constructed meanings.
These images focus on sites in Asia with a high level
of spiritual importance. These images serve as a counter-point
to her earlier work, demonstrating how the social meaning
of location can be constructed in wildly different terms.
exhibit fits very well with the other exhibits featured
in the JANM galleries. Her retrospective look at the
internment camp sites, long since abandoned and broken
down, are reciprocated quite well by exhibits detailing
the struggles of the Japanese-American community as
documented photographically. As the viewer winds their
way through the other galleries, various artifacts such
as suitcases and partially rebuilt barracks fill in
the gaps of what once populated the abandoned sites
photographic image has played a key role in the documentation
of the Japanese-American experience. The eye of the
photojournalist has captured much of the hardships faced
by the community throughout their life in the United
States. With respect to this, Hayashi's images are all
the more effective, abstracting a human tragedy that
has already seen so much documentation. The photojournalism
of the era exists almost as ghosts, haunting reminders
of the tragedy to which these now long empty locales
Unseen: The Photographic Constructions of Masumi Hayashi"
is currently running through September 14, 2003 at the
Japanese American National Museum, 369 East First Street
in Little Tokyo. The museum is open Tuesday-Sunday,
10am-5pm, and Thursday, 10am-8pm.