Proposal by Motoya Nakmaura
I started my autobiographical project based on experiencing a déjà-vu-like sensation: “I have been here,” which occurred one day while visiting Oaks Park. By photographing there, I traced the origin of that sensation to my childhood memory. My grandmother used to take me to Higashiyama Koen, a neighborhood amusement park in Japan, almost every weekend. She died when I was twelve. I have photographed Oaks Park many times throughout the last two years in an attempt to reconstruct these childhood memories. I photographed strangers as well as my family: my wife and two children. During this process, I started recognizing a connection between photographs I made at Oaks Park and photographs I made in Japan. I could particularly see this in a photograph I took of my mother with my son, Akira. This expanded the theme of my project to include things like family genealogy.
Studio visits through the year from the MFA faculty members, visiting artists (Stephanie Smith, Larry Sultan and Doug Blandhy) and fellow MFA students helped me to realize that the common thread that runs through the photographs I have created for this project is the fact that I left home to create a new life but have been continually pulled in two opposing directions: my old life and the new one I created in the United States. Through my photographs, I began to explore my identity as a first generation immigrant who came to this country from Japan at the age of twenty-six.
From the time I came to the United States as a student in 1989 to the present, I have somehow managed to get jobs and to build my life with my wife and two children. I did not even go home to Japan for the first three years, partly because I was challenging myself to succeed here. I didn’t even think about the complexity that the future would bring. The older I got, the more nostalgic I began feeling about Japan. I don’t like to use the word “nostalgic” but I can’t quite find a better word. Homesick? It might be that. Too many years have passed since I left Japan. The Japan that I know does not even exist any longer. The Japanese side of my family, including my aging parents, still live there. My mother was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. She is eighty-one years old. Do I go back there? I don't know. My wife is of Irish-Jewish descent from Massachusetts and we have two children who are native Oregonians. It’s not up to me alone to make the decision to return to Japan. Moving there would mean leaving their home country for my wife and children. I am not even sure that it would really mean going home for myself anymore.
I grapple with isolation, which is caused by my inability to assimilate completely in this culture and with the English language. The United States is a nation of immigrants. People from all over the world have left their native lands to live here. During the major immigration period up to World War I, however, there were ethnic neighborhoods built by European immigrants. In modern days, ethnic neighborhoods have been inhabited by a third wave of immigrants: Mexicans, Vietnamese, and Koreans, for example. There once were Japanese neighborhoods throughout the West Coast states. They were dispersed during World War II by the government’s wartime relocation to internment camps of both first and second generation Japanese Americans.
People have dealt with isolation by sticking together, forming neighborhoods and subcultures within their same ethnic group. I do not have such a place to belong to here. I only have my immediate family and a few friends here in Portland. Blood families, both mine and my wife’s, live far away in Japan and on the East Coast. I think many people can identify with this type of isolation, and the complexity that it brings to life. My project is to create an autobiographical body of work that allows audience a chance to reflect on their own lives, and also helps them to appreciate the beauty and wonder that memories of the past have the potential to create.