In December 2016 I was searching for a portable printer and discovered on Amazon a small printer called the PickIt. What attracted me beyond its size was that it used dye sublimation rather than ink jets to produce the image. In my former life I used dye sub to print marketing materials so I was impressed that such a small unit used the same technology.
On December 2, 2016 tragedy struck not only the Bay Area, but my family when the Ghost Ship warehouse fire in Oakland claimed the life of 36 young adults. One of them was Jenny Morris who just turned 21 and was the former girlfriend of my son. Jenny and my son dated for about 18 months, but had ended their relationship almost a year prior to the tragic fire. In many ways I feel blessed that my son did not perish in that fire. Had he and Jenny still been a couple I’m positive he would have been at the event and perished along with the other young adults.
Back in mid-October 2016 just before the Presidential election the mood of Facebook along with the country took an ugly turn. People overtly and covertly began to show bigotry toward me as well as others. For me Facebook has never been a vehicle for real change, although there are some things like helping individuals that work through social media. I found that Facebook made me ‘feel’ as if I ‘may’ be doing ‘something’ but in reality it was just masturbation. The good of keeping ‘in touch’ with people who had moved away or people I had not seen in many years was a positive part of the social media giant, but for me nothing of substance was there. It was a time burner. In May I had a stroke after my mother died in April and when the doctor told me to quit smoking or I’d risk a stroke that could leave me paralyzed on one side of my body. So I quit…cold turkey. Had she said that I would die if I had another stroke, well I would have gladly kept smoking. The thought of being dependent on anyone, most of all my children or my partner was enough to convince me to quit. Even though I LOVED SMOKING. The positive result of my stroke is I found so many things trivial. I had found pettiness and trivial people and attitudes poor in the past but the stroke sharpened my keen sense of what is important to a new level.
Throughout my life I can count on one hand times when I have been unable to sleep soundly through the night. I almost immediately start to snore as soon as my head hits the pillow. Those close to me often marvel at my ability to sleep anywhere, on a plane, bus, train, noisy street, literally anywhere and at almost any time. My two adult children wait in horror at movies, elbows at the ready to strike simply because I miss the first ten minutes of any movie simply because I fall asleep and begin to snore.
Those nights where I lay sleepless are vivid in my memory. Barring my nights when infant children needed to be tended to, they include the death of our first son, born stillborn. A small hole in his amniotic sack allowed fluid to drain preventing his lungs from fully developing. The first week when my wife and I decided to separate and I moved into a new house away from what I knew as ‘my family’ home. The guilt and doubt haunted me preventing me from my normal escape into peaceful slumber. When I was 21 and my father was in the hospital for the 29th day and I feared that he would die and I would not be at his side. My fears proved true as I received a call early in the morning to tell me he had passed away in the night. And finally a period of time when my female boss was harassing me so vigorously that I had to file a harassment claim against her which the company eventually found to be valid.
Yet tonight is completely different. I lay awake not due to any series of or single event which causes me anxiety or pain. Instead I lay awake simply because I am excited, but not for any other reason than being excited about my life. Like most adults I have for many years pursued careers which provided fiscal security for myself and my family. We all encourage our children to build their lives around what they truly want to do, yet we give them mixed signals about our parental ‘approval’ about appropriate career choices. I laughed one day when I heard an Asian comedian say “All Asian parents encourage their children to pursue the arts UNTIL they actually want to pursue the arts for a living!” My parents pushed me toward more ‘prestigious and practical’ pursuits; engineering, math, science and business. Some career where I could make a ‘good living’ for myself and my eventual family. I now understand their motivation for me toward those goals, yet I never found true personal satisfaction in those choices no matter how large my direct deposits.
Today as a commercial photographer life is completely different. I am not confined to a Monday through Friday 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM job, weekly management meetings, PowerPoint presentations and annual reviews. So many times I recall longing for the weekend to arrive and reveled in three day weekends. My boss often denied vacation time and her performance reviews were based upon her last and most recent negative memory. In stark contrast my life now consists of working whenever a client needs the type of imagery I can produce along with a work ethic that doesn’t fit the normal ‘artist’ stereotype. I work with people who are truly collaborative, who enjoy the arts even when that means their bank accounts don’t maintain four figures on a monthly basis not including the decimal points. My ‘annual review’ has turned into a daily review since a photographer is only as good as his or her last shoot. There are certainly downsides to this life, but those pitfalls are far less than what I’ve experienced in the corporate world. Creativity is TRULY encouraged and rewarded, what more can anyone ask?
So tonight as I lay sleepless it is because I have two remarkable adult children, I’m healthy, I have a comfortable roof over my head, a woman who loves and supports me, a community of likeminded individuals and a career I simply adore. Over the past ten years there have been countless people who have both supported and helped me in this endeavor, something I can only repay by returning those favors in kind to others.
For those few who have wondered why I have neglected these Musing pages for so long, it’s simply because I didn’t feel I had anything important to say. Tonight is different and now I’m sure I’ll be able to sleep soundly while keeping my partner awake with my snoring. May each of us be so blessed as to have a life which we enjoy. Good night.
In September of 2005 my son and I went out one night when I first reentered photography. He wanted to go out on his own and I wrote about this event in one of my first Musings on this blog. You can read that short story here. Since that time he has not shown much interest in photography despite my encouragement and marvel at his natural eye for composition and timing. As he grew into a teen other activities were more important to him, friends, cars and of course girls. (more…)
I have recently written here about my project with the kids at Telegraph Hill Neighborhood Center. Last week was my third week there and was by far the most active. I delivered the kid’s photos along with their presentation boards and we spent the day assembling their photographs on the boards. This week I return to have them present their family’s stories to the rest of the class and then in March the center will hold an art exhibit of their work. Exciting times. But more than the event for me this period in my life is about new discoveries for myself.
As many of you know, the vast majority of my imagery consists of complete strangers going about their daily lives. Although I find gratification in my work and I can occasionally offer strangers who I see again on the street the images I have made of them, there is a certain disappointment. Today I met with a man who I’ve only known online and with him was a young family who joined us for dinner in San Francisco. Since I was in the City to shoot all day, I naturally had my camera with me, as did Martin my new friend.
So I began to shoot Ed and his young family during dinner. And when I arrived home I was most excited to process those images rather than the ones I had taken for my work. The reason is simple. Being able to give someone images of those they love means much more to me than the pursuit of art. It was a reminder that the substance of one’s art means much more than any amount of accolades or material reward. Being able to offer someone something of personal value is its own reward.
This has been a tough year in many ways as well as one that has brought me much joy. Yesterday my son went to his Senior Prom marking his exit from high school. With my daughter in her second year of college and my son on his way, this chapter in my life is about to close. At an age when my aunts and uncles are passing away, the hands of time are constantly reminding me that time waits for no one.
So much of my life is self governed by what I keep in the forefront of my mind – family and loved ones. No matter how important something may seem at work, it all pales in comparison to those who are close to me, those whose bonds are not dependent on making a living, but simply because I love them. So I have been a bit melancholy lately with so many reminders that much of life’s toil has nothing to do with what is truly important.
I will take a break from photography, as I have not been happy or motivated with my work. I will continue to look at the expressions of people, but I doubt I will attempt to capture their moments. It just all seems, well fruitless. It may be a transition period, but then again, it may not. Today I will shoot the last event for the high school both of my children attended. Yet another reminder that an era I cherished has passed. Perhaps it is because photographs remind me of what once was, has now passed that I now find little interest in photography. Tracy thinks I need a good night’s rest. I hope she’s right.
For quite some time I have given thought to taking my work toward a series rather than single images. A series that would convey a story rather than a single focused feeling. As I said in yesterday’s Musing, this past weekend I had the chance to spend time with my daughter who is living in her first apartment off campus. Of course photography is my passion, but it pales in comparison to how I feel about my children. So I thought, why not combine two elements I love, my children and my hobby.
Presented this week is a small series titled ‘A Day with My Daughter.’ Sure it’s cliché and personal, but this is after all this is my blog. It will allow me to practice within the safety of my own family my desire to expand beyond my comfort zone of single imagery to one that includes a story, a sequential message. What I have strive to achieve in this series is to maintain my always present goal of genuine feeling and mood while expanding toward the story and glimpse into one person’s life, albeit a very important person to me.
Nori bears the name of my late Father, as her mother and I decided early on that our first born would bear his name irregardless of gender. She certainly has many of his characteristics, tenacity, honor and courage. And just like any first born, she is the one who must bear the burden of a parent’s naivety for parenting and now his pursuit of a different form of storytelling. And although I will not title each piece, I will venture into the world of short stories to go with each image, a bit of background to round out the series. Thanks for indulging me and the thanks goes mainly to Nori. Thanks Pumpkin, I love you.
I just returned from a weekend visit with my daughter who is attending college. We had a great time and it helped me to realize that no matter how old children become, their need for their parents remains the same. Sure, their needs become more mature in nature, but all of us need a sense of belonging, of family. I had mistakenly thought and felt that the time had ended when my children needed me. How happily mistaken I was. So this week, I will run a small series titled, ‘A Day with my Daughter No, the images are not what you may have come to ‘expect’ from my work, but in reality, the images I will present here are infinitely more important to me than most that I post to these pages, for obvious reasons. In the near future I will post another series, ‘A Day with my Son.’
I have been participating too frequently in online theme blogs and it is time for me to take a break. I have a theatre performance to cover this week, The Philadelphia Story, which will take a bit of time to cover and process. It’s time for me to recreate what I want to do and where I want to progress. I can think of no better way to do that than to focus on the people and events I love.
Yesterday Tracy and I stopped by my aunt’s home to return the photo album I used to prepare the slide show for Harvey’s funeral service. It was a glorious day and we stood outside on their front lawn to take in the view of San Pedro Harbor and Catalina Island. Afterward I told my aunt that I wanted to photograph her in the dining room area where we had shared countless Thanksgiving dinners. I asked her to hold the flag she received on Saturday at my Uncle’s service. If you recognize her hands and signature Timex watch, you may remember the image I took of her hands during my aunt Chiz’s funeral service. It was even more poignant, as I was shooting my aunt’s image with one of the three lenses owned by my uncle, a Canon EF 28-70mm f2.8 L lens. I had one like it, but gave it to Tracy a few months back. That lens held a special significance to me, as I took one of my favorite images of Eugene’s hands with that lens.
Throughout my photographic life, I have been a bit of a snob of sorts, only considering Canon’s L lenses. I saved money by purchasing all of them second hand either through craigslist or Ebay. I was shocked when I saw that my uncle had three Canon L series lenses in his study, the aforementioned lens I used to shoot Kazy’s image, an EF 17-35 f2.8 L wide angle and an EF 70-200 f2.8 L lens. Whenever I saw Harvey with his Rebel DSLR, he always had his kit lens attached, a simple EF 18-55 model. When Kazy offered his lenses to me, I was both excited and touched. More so than the vigorous use all of the lenses will receive, the sentimental value of the glass is what holds their real value.
So I will take all of them on an upcoming trip to Europe and in a symbolic way, will have the chance to look upon the people of that continent through the eyes of my uncle.
Today was my uncle Harvey’s memorial service and I wanted to reprint part of my cousin’s verbal chronology of Harvey’s life here:
“MILITARY SERVICE Now of draft age, Harvey gets drafted into the army in 1944, but while en route to Europe on the Queen Mary in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, the war ends. So, instead of reinforcing the 442nd in Italy, Harvey ends up with the Allied occupation forces in Berlin, Germany – escorting the remains of recovered American soldiers to Frankfurt for return to their families in the United States. He is discharged from the army, and returns to the family, still situated in Chicago, and takes advantage of his GI Bill benefits to attend college – earning a degree in engineering from the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign.
He tries but can’t find work in Chicago, and when the family moves to L.A., it’s the same story – no work available that would take advantage of his college education. While in L.A., he sees a poster at a Navy recruiting office – looking for pilots. He meets the requirements (a college degree and passing a physical), and starts training for his pilots’ wings in June, 1950 – the start of the Korean war. He earns his Naval Aviator wings in December, 1951. Harvey said that “…by tradition, most cadets had either their parents or their girlfriend pin their wings on them – but my folks were too far away, and there were no girl friends around either.” (…hear that, Kazy?)
So, Harvey had the honor of having Rear Admiral Hughes himself pin his aviator wings on his uniform. Harvey winds up flying over 72 combat missions in Korea, while based on the USS Princeton. He tells a harrowing story of how, after a bombing run, on his way back to the carrier, an electrical malfunction causes a small fire inside the pressurized cockpit of his jet – and fills it with smoke so thick he couldn’t even see his instruments. He was flying at 25,000 feet at the time.
Thinking fast, he opens the cockpit just a crack to try and clear the smoke – which it does, but it’s then that he sees nothing but blue water in front of him: He was heading straight down, now at only 8,000 feet! Not wanting to eject while heading straight down, he pulled back on the control stick to bring the jet horizontal before ejecting. Once he did that, he decided he’d try and make it back to the carrier…that’s when he discovered that the cockpit fire had knocked out his communication system.
He caught up with his squadron leader, and used hand signals to communicate the problem. His leader radioed ahead to the carrier and they prepared the deck for an emergency landing. Harvey was able to bring the craft in safely – and when he told his officers what happened…they told him he was crazy…! They said if the same thing had happened to them – they would have ditched the plane the minute they noticed smoke in the cockpit!
There’s another tale of Harvey “dropping a bomb on himself” during a miscommunication during a mission. He laughs, “…The Navy doesn’t have a medal for that.” Harvey winds up making a total of 118 carrier landings – becoming the only Nisei to wear the Navy’s Tailhook Centurion patch – reserved only for those pilots making 100 or more aircraft carrier landings.”
My uncle was a very quiet man, but held an immense amount of strength and fortitude. I will miss you dearly Uncle.
In honor of my aunt, uncle and father, I will display their childhood family portrait on my main page until after my uncle Harvey’s funeral on March 8 2008. I miss each of them.
I had been in a foul mood yesterday. Many things contributed to my mood. My uncle’s death and his upcoming services, issues at work and something that I am not accustomed to dealing with – perceived negativity. Communication is a funny thing as there are always three elements which comprise a conversation; the speaker, the listener and the interpretation. Once upon a time, I was the type of person who read the paper religiously from cover to cover, hoping to keep abreast of the happenings in the world and in my community. I would faithfully watch the news every night to hear and see what I had missed in the papers. I would speak with my colleagues and friends about the world’s events and how unfair, horrible and hopeless the world was becoming. And then something happened, an personal epiphany of sorts. I discovered that what is so often reported, so gleefully written, spoken and illustrated always seemed to surround the negative, the horrible way we treat one another as humans. So I made a conscious decision to ‘unplug’ from the media in order to clear my own mind and mainly my soul from the constant and utter barrage of negativity.
Many will view my decision as one man’s efforts to put his head into the sand. But I disagree. I certainly know, perhaps better than most of the horrors and injustices that occur in this country and countries and entities around the world. Human nature seems determined to suppress someone else in order to elevate their own causes. Recently I have been subjected to something that I have not had much experience with – criticism of America, specifically Americans. Since I have not traveled much abroad or had personal contact with people outside of America, this is a new phenomenon for me. And it is certainly one that I find difficult to deal with. Perhaps some of the reasons I find it disturbing is some of the comments remind me of the prejudice I experienced in the past. Some of the comments have been well researched and others are simply conversational and without merit.
As I heard the opinions of others I thought back to my own family, Japanese immigrants who came to America in search of a better life for their own families. My grandfather came here when it was illegal to have Japanese women immigrate. At the same time it was illegal for him to date women outside of his own ethnicity. So he did what any red blooded man did, he used the Match.com method of that day and found my grandmother through a catalog of women who wanted husbands. And the result were three wonderful children, Nori, Chiz and Harvey.
Then war broke out and Japanese Americans were sent to interment camps. Later those same people who were sent to camps were asked to enlist into the US Armed Forces. Many did not and I was surprised to learn from Tracy’s brother Craig that some Japanese Americans renounced their US Citizenship and returned to Japan after their interment. But both of my maternal uncles served in the 442nd, the most decorated unit in US History. Later both my father and uncle enlisted into the US Armed Forces. My Dad into the Army where he was a tank commander and my uncle Harvey into the US Navy as a naval aviator. Both were highly decorated during the Korean campaign.
As I recalled the life of both my father and uncle, I was struck that neither of them complained or criticized any land including America. As far as I am concerned they had a legitimate right to criticize the very country where they were citizens, yet interned. My father told me that a man should never be judged solely by his mistakes, but how he treats others and just as important – what he does to improve where he lives. My uncle Harvey, a very soft spoken and a quiet man once said to me, “Marky, there are troubles everywhere and to speak of trouble and do nothing to improve what you see is not honorable. Never enter someone’s home and tell them that you don’t like what you see. Find something that you admire and tell them that.” My aunt Chiz certainly saw first hand how biased and unfair life can be, yet always looked upon the positive and gave everyone the benefit of the doubt. I always wanted to be around her as her outlook gave me strength to act toward improvement.
I am proud to come from my family, a family whose roots are proudly Japanese who also acted and built a life as Americans. I am not above complaining and fretting about what goes on in this world that is horrid and unfair. But like my relatives and ancestors, I have chosen to view the positive side of life. I will focus on what is right and universal to all humanity, for what is not can only be corrected one person at a time. It is said that the only person we can truly change is ourselves. Living one’s life in an honorable way is what I have been taught not only through words, but through actionable example. I have made many mistakes in my life that I’m sure have affected others, some I know, some I may never know. I hope that as I move forward I am always able to view this life with positive hope, but more importantly positive actions. First and foremost, the need to live in such a way that inspires others to follow. Nori did, Harvey did, Chiz did, my grandparents did. And I will.
So what does it all mean? Pictures I mean. I guess in a world filled with immediate gratification photography can play a part. But in the larger world, what matters is who we are, who we become and most important, who we love. I had a chance to visit my uncle Harvey again this past weekend to see a man who I have known all of my life. My father’s youngest sibling, he is all that remains of the second generation of Kitaoka’s.
When Tracy and I arrived at his home, my aunt Kazy was visibly shaken by his condition. No longer able to get out of bed, he was asleep when we arrived. We stood by his bedside as my aunt attempted to awaken him. Slowly he opened his eyes and she said, “Honey, Marky is here.” He closed his eyes again, barely having the strength to keep them open. But after a time, he opened them and recognized me and motioned that he was thirsty. So I placed a half full bottle of water in his now frail hand and watched as he painfully tried to tilt the bottle just enough to quench his thirst. I debated helping him as the water slowly moved through the transparent plastic toward his lips, but refrained knowing that my uncle’s pride was more important than assistance. And finally he obtained the simple pleasure he sought, a small drink of water.
After that he seemed better, opening his eyes and attempting to speak. Shortly after that, my cousins arrived and we all gathered around him. One of my cousins had prepared a special dish he felt Harvey could eat and once he was told of the meal, he asked my aunt to raise his bed so he could eat. Elated, Kazy raised his hospital bed up and place his glasses on his face so he could see all of us. The mood of the night changed at that very moment, as we saw Harvey smile and as my aunt watched, she was touched, as she had not seen him smile in weeks.
It was almost as normal, my uncle smiling and talking while enjoying the simple pleasure of a meal with his family. It was a scene that played out throughout my lifetime – family exchanging our companionship with one another. I had taken down my historic katana to show Harvey and his eyes widened when he touched the sword’s tang. He then told me to go into his office to get the tail hook he kept off of the jet he flew in the Korean war for the US Navy. I am proud of my family’s history which includes warriors from feudal Japan, but mostly for the honor we share as a group.
As I stood there with all of my family, I remembered something that I have tried to live by for the past several years. To enjoy the moment, in the moment and never take for granted what is presented to each of us. Before leaving for the night, I held out my hand to my uncle and he moved his right hand out from under the covers of his bed. As we shook hands as men do I looked him in the eyes and said, “Uncle, I am so proud to be your nephew.” He simply smiled and clenched my hand with the strength to which I have always been accustomed from a man who has always been physically strong. I simply said, “I’ll see you very soon.”
Last November I took a photograph of my aunt and uncle just before his health turned to a point where he could no longer walk. That image and images I cherish have made all that I do in photography pale in comparison. So what does it all mean? It means that tomorrow is promised to no one and for today I will appreciate those who I love and cherish.
What is it about babies that is utterly irresistible? Perhaps it is simply Nature’s way of reminding all of us that hope springs eternal with the birth of a new soul. It’s been a very long time since I have had the chance to hold a baby, but recently during my trip to Montreal to meet Tracy’s family, I was able to meet and hold her niece Addison. As soon as she was in my arms, I hearkened back to the days when I held both Nori and Niko as infants. All of the feelings that I had then returned immediately as I held her in my arms.
I sent Nori an image of me holding Addy with a note that said, ‘I want one of these.’ My daughter quickly replied, ‘Are you crazy? Are you encouraging teenage pregnancy or are you just trying to get out of paying tuition?’ Ah teens, so delicate in their reactions! No Pumpkin, I simply long for the innocent days when I was able to hold both you and your brother wrapped in your mimis and safe in my arms as each of you sucked your thumbs.
So perhaps it is simply the reality of birth that makes each of us mere puddles in the presence of a newborn. The newness of it all is so intoxicating. But even as adults, we are able to marvel in that which makes our own worlds new again. Tonight I watched as my own son began to discover the joy of his new DSLR, reading the manual and shooting images around his home in pure discovery. And later when I spoke to Tracy on the phone, she too was doing the very same thing at almost the very same moment as my son – exploring her new camera gear taking simple joy in the discovery of what is new.
For me, I simply marvel at the synchronicity of this life. Tonight, it all seems new to me too.