Today, his subjects say it is especially urgent for the public to know their stories because of the renewed emphasis on profiling people based on their country of origin or their faith.
“It’s important to get this story out there because of what is going on now,’ Kitagaki said. “They don’t want anything like this to happen to anyone else.”
For the project, he interviewed the people from Lange’s photos and made portraits in a style similar to that of the 1940’s with a 4x5 camera and Polaroid type 55 film that produces both a film negative and positive print.
The project became “Gambatte! Legacy of an Enduring Spirit: Triumphing Over Adversity Japanese American WWII Incarceration Reflections Then and Now.” Kitagaki said that Gambatte is a Japanese word that can mean “Triumph over adversity,” “Keep trying to do your best” or “Don’t give up.”
Kitagaki said that he saw his family, through their suffering, had the spirit of gaman, a Japanese term from Zen Buddhism meaning patient perseverance. They didn’t want to talk about what had happened.
“They wanted to move past that experience and I think it was shameful and painful for them. They didn’t want that experience to cloud their children’s thoughts,” Kitagaki said. “They wanted everything to be kind of positive for us.”
Kitagaki, 62, is a senior photojournalist at the Sacramento Bee. He went to San Francisco State University and started freelancing for local newspapers after graduation. He has been a photojournalist for 38 years with additional experience in radio, television and broadcasting. He shared in a Pultizer Prize while working at the San Jose Mercury News in 1990. He has also worked at The Oregonian, The San Francisco Examiner and the Seattle Post Intelligencer.
The Gambatte traveling exhibit started in 2012 and was helped with an NPPA Short Grant. The exhibit is at the Tucson Desert Art Museum until April 30 and then moves to the Historic Fort Snelling Museum in St. Paul Minnesota from May to October. Kitagaki is looking for other venues and for a publisher for a book from the Gambatte project.