Rule Breakers: Kevin J. Miyazaki

“I never want to see another picture of ________.” Industry veterans share their pet peeves on themes in contemporary photography. In this series they present their “rule” along with five photographs that break the rule in an effort to show that great work is the exception to the rule.

Rule Setter: Jennifer Murray, Executive Director, Filter Photo
Rule Breaker: Kevin J. Miyazaki

I never want to see another picture of a reworked family photograph. As more and more photographers are gleaning the vast database of existing photographs for their work (myself included), it is not uncommon to see the family archive recontextualized to meet the needs of the artist. Often, this is done through only mildly successful collage techniques and has a visual impact designed to stir our interest in the past and long for the good old days when people actually held photographs in their hands. The reworked family photograph either lulls with a generic nostalgia or feels decidedly too personal and thus out of reach for the viewer. 

In contrast, Kevin J. Miyazaki’s newest project, Echo, hits just the right note as he pulls a thread through his family’s vintage images and artifacts to his contemporary life, where the diptychs he creates speak about a common American experience of migration and assimilation. The photographs in Echo are a mix of newly created images Miyazaki made in Hawaii, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Washington State, Ohio and Japan, combined with older images and photographs from his family archive.

Miyazaki writes, “Echo investigates family history by addressing issues of migration, memory and place. In making the work, I’m interesting in finding connections, both large and small, to my ancestry and ethnicity. My maternal great grandparents and paternal grandparents emigrated from Japan to Hawaii and Washington State, respectively. I was born and raised in the American Midwest, often the only face of color in an overwhelmingly white suburban setting. My interest in family history stems from this upbringing, but is fueled by compelling stories of migration, personal struggles and accomplishments within my family. My great grandfather Saburo Hayashi became a pioneer in the fields of medicine, education and journalism in Hawaii—the series title, Echo, is taken from the name of the Japanese and English language newspaper he began publishing in 1897. And my father, an American citizen born in Tacoma, Washington, was incarcerated with his family in camps for Japanese Americans during World War II.”

In addition to connecting with his own family history, Miyazaki is also interested in the role the family photo album plays in the making of family narratives. He writes, “The diptych format references the physical structure of a family photo album and pairs images that hold deep personal meaning, but often have unidentifiable connections. I’m interested in how family photo albums, particularly when viewed generations later, can hold both fact and mystery. They often present persons and places both known and unknown, and can be both clarifying and inconclusive.”

As a rule breaker, what I enjoy most about Echo are the thoughtful connections that Miyazaki makes not only to his past and present but to the role the photograph plays in carrying our personal narratives forward from one generation to the next. The echo is clear and while the stories contained within the series are personal, the American experience of a complex cultural identity—fueled by immigration, forced assimilation, and discrimination is widely felt.
—Jennifer Murray