By Todd Stewart, Essays By Natasha Egan and Karen J. Leong.
(Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2008, 121 pp., $34.95, hardcover)
“Placing Memory” is a wonderful and welcome addition to the existing body of photographic works capturing images of Japanese Americans’ concentration camp experiences. Stewart’s work is unique in that his photographs attempt and stunningly succeed in capturing a physical inventory of what remains at each of the 10 concentration camps today. It is ultimately up to the viewer’s experiences and memories to determine whether a place holds memory.
Stewart juxtaposes, in many parts, his meditative color photographs capturing the play of light, texture, composition and starkness of what remains at the 10 camps, with black and white images from War Relocation Authority (WRA) files. Photographs of roads, foundations, excavated gardens, weather-worn buildings, and landscapes that have survived more than 60 years invite those who were there to remember; however, for those who have not experienced this forced incarceration of “aliens and non-aliens” of Japanese ancestry during World War II, it invites them to fill in those “spaces” that the grand narrative has left out of our historical memories.
The strength of this volume is in the minimalist approach of the photographs — where less is more except where the meditative rhythm is disrupted when Stewart adds foldouts of pasted-together landscape. Another distraction of this book is the attempt to straddle accessibility with the “academic.” After reading the two essays at the beginning of this book one could add, “it takes a thousand words (literally) to paint a picture” to “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Despite these distractions, the rewards of these elegant photographs are well worth the read.