David Alan Yamamoto

Location is critical in the work of David Alan Yamamoto. In his series Landscapes and Memories, Yamamoto combines photographs with text, focusing his attention on significant individuals in his life, almost all of whom have passed away. Photographs of the headstones or cemeteries in which Yamamoto's "loved ones" are buried appear as identification markers, providing only sparse facts on the deceased. Accompanying the images of the graves are photographs of the places where Yamamoto interacted with these individuals. "I find my memmories much more alive in places where I shared their time," he writes.

Interestingly enough, Yamamoto's photographs of these places, filled with personal memories, are rather quiet and still. There are no figures or props that fill the spaces and it is only after reading the accompanying text that the viewer begins to imagine the events described.

The quiet nature of these photographs parallel the literal silence endured by Yamamoto as a young boy and adolescent. As viewers, we learn that Yamamoto's paternal grandfather barely spoke to him, in part because he could not accept the marriage of Yamamoto's Japanese American father to his African American mother. There is the silence of Yamamoto's friend Leon who did not speak about the pain he suffered which led him to commit suicide. At the same time, Yamamoto offers the viewer images free from the wieght of silence and death. The cul-de-sac where he and his girlfriend secretly met, and the welcoming home of his paternal grandmother following his grandfather's death, are both locations where Yamamoto could find peace.

While in Landscapes and Memories Yamamoto confronts experiences from his own life, in Manzanar he turns to the memories of others to explore the meaning of the shared historical experience of World War II Japanese American concentration camps. Growing up as a Sansei during the 1970s, Yamamoto recalls visiting Manzanar with his family. His initial understanding of the camp experience came from his father who was five years old when his family was forced into Manzanar. Being only a child at the time, Yamamoto's father retained pleasant memories of camp, unable to grasp the political and racial dynamics of the mass incarceration.

The piece, composed of photographs mounted onto a four-part folding screen, represents Yamamoto's contemporary visualization and interpretation of Manzanar as it exists today. In his own words, Yamamoto considers the landscape of Manzanar as "ruins," suggesting the artist's role as archaeologist searching for answers to the past. The format of Manzanar and the use of landscape imagery clearly make reference to traditional Japanese art forms, emphasizing the work's concern with issues of the past. The text that appears with the screen is testimony of the actual experiences of internees; thus, combined with the photographs, the work comes together as documents from Manzanar. However, the manner in which the images and text are presented deny an archaeological reference. The stunning beauty of Manzanar transforms its documentary elements into a memorializing work of art.

In Yamamoto's most recent work, photographs of houses taken through out Los Angeles are mounted onto a large grid-like map of the city. The piece is a montage of images of homes combined with text taken from conversations between Yamamoto and present or past inhabitants of these spaces. This work is an extension fo Yamamoto's concern for the way in which sites contain personal histories. It also speaks to the politics of urban space, particularly in Los Angeles, where identity is often ascribed in terms of both race and geography.

Although David Alan Yamamoto was selected for this exhibition, in part, because of his Japanese ancestry, his work does not present a compact narrative about what it means to be Japanese American, Sansei or even Asian American. Instead, the viewer is allowed into the private realm of the artist's imagination where personal memories, intimate feelings and shared histories are woven together to reveal art that cannot be catergorized.

by Kristine M. Kim

A photographic artist with a Master of Fine Arts from the California Institue of Arts, David Alan Yamamoto has shown his work throughout the Southern California Area. A Los Angeles native, Yamamoto addresses the issues of family, community, and ethnic history in his work, exploring how the memories of the past are interpreted in the perspectives and perceptions of today.

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