Photos by Kevin J. Miyazaki

By Stewart David Ikeda


May 2008 – For our Asian American History Month edition this year, the editors are thrilled to post our first photo exhibit in a long time. The following images are excerpts from a larger collection, Camp Home, by noted travel and portrait photographer Kevin J. Miyazaki.

The images were taken in the fall of 2007 during Miyazaki’s tour of the area surrounding the former Tule Lake internment camp, where Japanese Americans including his father were incarcerated during World War II.  Following the official government apology and reparations to the former prisoners in the 90s, the image of the hastily constructed, wood and tarpaper barracks used to house the internees in camps throughout the American West has become iconic — powerfully symbolic of wartime hysteria and the trouncing of our citizens’ civil liberties.

For Miyazaki, this association was powerful when he finally made his first pilgrimage to the site, and the contrast between the Tule Lake of his imagination and what he saw in that place last year inspired him to take on what may be his most personal photography project to date.

Miyazaki describes the kernel of the project in an October entry on his blog:

I’ve been in California the past few days, beginning a new project. In May, I came to the site of the Tule Lake internment camp, where my dad’s family lived for part of WWII. On that visit, I assumed I’d find a memorial, and hoped to at least visit where the camp once stood. But I learned that many buildings from the camp still stand – some, former military quarters, form a small subdivision on the camp grounds. And the barracks, used to house families like mine, were dispersed to returning veterans, as part of a homesteading program in the newly irrigated surrounding land.

I was only passing through that day, but decided to return to photograph the buildings in their current state. There were a few creative roadblocks in the past weeks…but I’ve been on the ground and making pictures for the past three days. I’m not completely sure of how to talk about the work in a concise manner, but it feels completely right to be here – driving small county roads, meeting nice people, and sharing stories about the past.

The buildings dot the landscape here – some have been remodeled and lived in as houses since the 40’s, while others were used for storage or outbuildings. And while there are hundreds in the area, I can’t escape the idea that one of them might have been my dad’s home, if only for a short time.


The idea, for Miyazaki, was haunting…


…and although he’d undertaken a number of travel projects shooting lonely, forgotten sites and structures in the past, this one was deeply personal and took him out of his comfort zone. On a return visit to the area in the fall, he decided to approach the current owners about photographing the land and the structures.

He continues:

[I] was a bit nervous going in[to Tule Lake], but everyone I met was friendly and willing to help. And I came to realize that the uncertainty, the interaction, the sharing of stories about the land and about family – this is a crucial part of the project. This is, after all, about family history, and about a specific place. I talked for hours about farming and the land – things I knew little of. People responded to my questions and curiosity with a surprising openness.

The best example might be the Prosser siblings (John, Judy, and Frank) who, in the midst of harvesting potatoes, allowed me photograph in their late father’s house, which was once an internment camp barracks. I had a bit of difficulty explaining why photographs of his kitchen sink meant something to me and my work, but they were gracious and open.


The series is part architectural, part archeological.  While Miyazaki’s initial fascination was with the current structures — how the barracks that stood so prominent in his family lore had been built upon and abandoned by other families, transformed for other uses — he also discovered a treasure trove of modest artifacts that he felt captured an important “human element”.  He found bottles, baseballs, decorations that had remained behind from some family that had passed through there — perhaps not his own family, and not in the same circumstances, but perhaps in some way like his own — faded through decades of disuse.

He observes that:


Cameras weren’t allowed in the internment camps, so there’s a void in the Japanese American family album. And though none of these things – baseball caps, jars on shelves – were things that belonged to my family, they still represent the lives once lived there.


Miyazaki plans to expand upon the series in the future.  He recently received a competitive fellowship grant from the Mary L. Nohl Fund, which supports artists from Southeast Wisconsin, and says that he expects to use the funds to travel back to Tule Lake this month.



To see more from this and other series, visit


Readings of Related Interest


Kevin J. Miyazaki is a professional photographer who commercial work has been published in major publications including The New York Times, Travel + Leisure, Fortune, GQ, TIMEand many others. His personal photography including the Camp Home series is excerpted on his website, as well as annotated with some running commentary on his personal blog at  He hails from Milwaukee, where his family settled via Minneapolis after the war, and where he has been active with the Wisconsin chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League. A limited edition booklet and print package of his personal works entitled 38 is available through his blog.  Stewart Ikeda is author of the book, What the Scarecrow Said (HarperCollins-Regan Books), about the Japanese-American immigration, internment and relocation experience. Former Director of Online Content and Editor-in-Chief at, he is a new media planning, editorial, and diversity consultant, and served as Editor of the Asian-American Village Online, Editor of Diversity Employers Magazine, and VP of Online Publishing for IMDiversity, Inc.

All images on this page are copyrighted by Kevin Miyazaki and are reproduced here with permission. is committed to presenting diverse points of view. However, the viewpoint expressed in this article is the opinion of the author and is not necessarily the viewpoint of the owners or employees at IMD.