Words & Images © Will Matsuda.
I look like I could be from anywhere. When I visit my ancestral homelands, I look like I’m an outsider. I imagine even my ancestors asking me, “No, where are you really from?”
Two months ago I found a crate full of my ancestors’ 150-year-old books, notes, magazines, photos, and ephemera during a family reunion in rural Kansas. When I rummage through these objects I can begin to understand my white family’s history, even if some of the texts have titles like, “Menace of the Yellow Empire.” This project incorporates these objects, old family photos, and photos that I have taken at my ancestral homelands in both Japan and Kansas.
Understanding a history is tactile. I want my interactions with these objects and photographs to be visible and tangible in this project, which is why I chose to write directly on my photos. I want this project to read as a kaleidoscopic free-fall into my conscious and subconscious relationship with visualizing my family and myself. The project is a study of how photography can be used as a tool to construct identities, histories, and heritage.
As a descendant of sugar plantation laborers and cattle ranchers, my identity is constructed around distinct visions of the “American Landscape.” The union of distinct heritages isn’t easy and it shouldn’t be. I always say I am half-Japanese, half-white, never the other way around. My favorite shirt has Japanese letters all over it. The way I choose to perform my identity will continue to change as I grow and learn and explore these family histories.
I am calling the project Arubamu, which means album in Japanese. It’s a phonetic attempt at the English word, which ends up sounding neither Japanese nor English. The family album that I construct is messy, but I hope beautiful, too.
Title: My Great-Grandfather’s Book
YPA 2016 MENTORING PROGRAM: AMERICAN LANDSCAPES
TEAM NEW YORK
MENTOR: Barry Rosenthal
MENTEE: Will Matsuda