DISPOSSESSION PART 3 of 5: THE IDEA – Reflecting on the creative process of my photograph for Kizuna
The idea for this photograph was not mine. It was my brother’s. My brother, Dr. Jeff Masuda is a professor of human geography at the University of Manitoba now, but three years ago, we both coincidentally ended up moving to Vancouver within a month of each other.
He was doing a post-doc at UBC, researching the effect of environment on health, specifically in the inner city of Toronto, and the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. He brought me onto his project to teach his subjects how to take better photos with disposable cameras. That was my first real exposure to the Downtown Eastside. Another thing we both had in common was our family of course – in the 1920’s our grandparents worked in the confectionery store in New World Hotel across from Oppenheimer Park, right in the heart of Japantown, the Downtown Eastside. My Dad’s family joked that they had to quit that business because the kids were eating all of their profits. The family moved to Shawnigan Lake in the 1930’s where my Dad was born in 1941. In 1942 they were forced to move again, and they chose the Alberta sugar beet fields over internment camps, in order to keep the family from being split 3 ways.
Last year I produced a documentary film about a research project that my brother was supervising and it was a successful collaboration – it’s still doing fairly well for both of us. Jeff subsequently suggested a topic for another film we would collaborate on, this time about the history of dispossessed communities in the area of the Downtown Eastside… First Nations, the Japanese Canadians, and the present-day Downtown Eastside.
In the meantime, I had been doing some volunteer work with the JCNM, the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House, the Powell Street Festival Society, and PIVOT Legal’s Hope In Shadows. In one project for SPARC BC I was lucky to find myself working with Rika Uto, Donna Nakamoto, and Scott Graham. It was there that I also met Lily Shinde who is on the Human Rights Committee of the Japanese Canadian Citizen’s Association – she and I spoke at length about the importance of remembering the internment, and frankly, until that conversation, I hadn’t thought a lot about it since my high school days. She inspired me to always remember and to think critically about that period in our history. I filed our conversation near the front of my mind to come back to later…
In parallel with Kizuna, I began to do some research at the JCNM for this film. The first photograph I looked at in the collection struck me – the conversation with Lily surfaced – and I began to research more. My brother was visiting from Manitoba for this summer’s Powell Street Festival and I arranged a meeting with him, Lily and myself.
I proposed the idea for the photograph – and they were both enthusiastically on board. That was the green light I needed – I merged my research for the film and the Kizuna photograph and began to plan my August – this was an ambitious photograph – with only one month until the Kizuna show could this possibly be completed in time?