“I can tell you that because I came to the reservation it changed my life,” says photographer Kenji Kawano, “because I met a code talker when I was hitchhiking somewhere around 1975…Mr. Carl Nelson Gorman – he was one of the original 29. And also I met my wife.”
37 years later, the images from Kawano’s camera come to the Heard Museum this weekend as Navajo Code Talkers, an exhibit complemented by Native Words, Native Warriors from the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibit Service.
Born in Fukuoka, Japan in 1949, Kawano found that his imagination was fired by the work of photographers Robert Frank, W. Eugene Smith, and Henri Cartier-Bresson. After visiting American Air Force and Navy bases in Japan to take photos, he came to the United States following high school.
“My thinking was to take pictures in Los Angeles, make a portfolio, and take my work back to Tokyo to have a photography exhibit…and if I’m lucky, I might become a freelance photographer.” Kawano laughs. “But when I look back now, it was a terrible plan.”
“I told my parents, ‘I’m going to America, but only for three months,’” he continues, “but actually I went back to Japan 7½ years later with my Navajo wife.” Unable to find any good projects in Los Angeles, Kawano leaped at a friend’s suggestion that he explore Navajo culture.
“Since I grew up watching Western movies when I was small,” he recalls, “I thought, ‘Maybe that’s a good idea, to go to the reservation to take pictures of Native Americans in everyday life.’”
Although he spoke neither English nor Navajo, the 25-year-old Kawano ended up in the heart of the Navajo reservation, living with a family and working at a gas station in Ganado, where he learned both languages from customers.
Kawano also broadened his experience by hitchhiking between Ganado, Window Rock, and Gallup. Along one of those roads he met Carl Gorman, and from then on Kawano’s life became inextricably entwined with the story of the Navajo code talkers.
Gorman was one of the first 29 Navajo men recruited by the Marines in 1942 to create a secret code based on the Navajo language. The code used Navajo words to indicate letters of the alphabet (for example: lha-cha-eh for “dog,” indicating the letter D) or certain military terms (lo-tso for “whale,” which meant “battleship”) – an ironic use of a Native American language the U.S. government tried diligently to eradicate in boarding schools.
Throughout World War II, the code remained unbroken by the Japanese, and around 420 Navajo code talker Marines served in the Pacific, communicating messages by telephone and radio. Occasionally, the young code talkers would be mistaken for Japanese and captured by fellow American soldiers. President Ronald Reagan designated August 14 as National Code Talkers Day, and in 2000 they were awarded Congressional Medals.
The man Kawano refers to as “my Navajo father,” Carl Gorman, helped create the code. He returned from the war, attended art school on the G.I. Bill, and eventually founded the Native American Studies Program at the University of California, Davis, befriending a young Japanese photographer along the way.
“Back in 1982, when Mr. Gorman was president of the Code Talkers Association, they chose me as official photographer and honorary member,” says Kawano, whose father served in the Japanese navy. He continues, “People say, ‘Why do you choose a former enemy?’ but Mr. Gorman said, ‘Kenji, we don’t hate you, because war is between two countries, not me and your father.’ So, quickly I became a friend of all the code talkers.”
After meeting his wife, Ruth Williams, at the College of Ganado, Kawano became the official photographer for the Navajo Nation and staff photographer for Navajo Times Today. In 1990 he published the book Warriors: Navajo Code Talkers, which contained a series of portraits.
“I really wanted people to know what young Navajo G.I.s did for this country – they didn’t use rifles; they used their language as a weapon,” explains Kawano. He’s delighted that his exhibition at the Heard will be displayed in tandem with Native Words, Native Warriors, which gives a great deal of background and context to the history of American Indian soldiers.
Kawano’s exhibition at the Heard features an array of snapshots taken between 1975 and 2012 and two portraits, including one young man holding a photo of his grandfather…who was photographed holding a photo of that same grandson as an infant. “I’m still taking pictures,” says Kawano. “I spend so much time for my project, and it never ends. This code talkers work is my lifework.”
- Both exhibits, Navajo Code Talkers and Native Words, Native Warriors, are on display at the Heard Museum through March 31, 2013.
- Find photographer Kenji Kawano’s portfolio and books on his website.
- The National Museum of the American Indian provides a companion website for the traveling Smithsonian exhibition Native Words, Native Warriors.
- Visit the Official Website of the Navajo Code Talkers, or find more information and documents on the National Archives website and the Naval History & Heritage Command website.
- The Navajo Code Talkers’ dictionary was declassified in 1968.
- Related articles in The New York Times include information about the Navajo code talkers and an obituary for Carl Gorman.
Some news items don’t need translation. That’s why DPJ launched the From the Wire series, so we could serve the destinations here by posting information and announcements – in their own words.
U.S. Forest Service kicks off My Neighborhood Forest photo contest, highlighting the colors of the urban forest.
The U.S. Forest Service announced its My Neighborhood Forest photo contest, celebrating America’s urban and community forests.
The Grand Prize winner will receive $200 in outdoor gear courtesy of the National Forest Foundation.
The contest, which runs through July 22, seeks to highlight the natural beauty that spring and summer bring to U.S. neighborhoods, communities and cities, as well as the crucial role of trees in the places we call home.
Those interested in competing should visit urbanforest.challenge.gov for more details on the prizes and contest rules.
Urban forests broadly include urban parks, street trees, landscaped boulevards, public gardens, river and coastal promenades, greenways, river corridors, wetlands, nature preserves, natural areas, shelter belts of trees and working trees at industrial brownfield sites.
“Urban forests are different from the forests you might normally think of, but they are functioning, hard-working ecosystems just the same,” said Tidwell. “As our neighborhoods warm up, trees add a crucial element of beauty to the places where we live, learn and work. We hope this photo contest will encourage people to go outside this season, and maybe they’ll learn a little more about their own neighborhood forests in the process.”
With 80 percent of the nation’s population in urban areas, there are strong environmental, social, and economic cases to be made for the conservation of green spaces to guide growth and revitalize city centers and older suburbs.
Urban forests, through planned connections of green spaces, form the green infrastructure system on which communities depend. This natural life support system sustains clean air and water, biodiversity, habitat, nesting and travel corridors for wildlife, and connects people to nature.
The Forest Service’s Urban and Community Forestry office is actively engaged in more than 7,000 communities across the United States, providing technical, financial, research and educational services to local government, non-profit organizations, community groups, educational institutions and tribal governments.
The mission of the U.S. Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. Recreational activities on our lands contribute $14.5 billion annually to the U.S. economy. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world.
Founded by Congress in 1991, the National Forest Foundation works to conserve, restore and enhance America’s 193-million-acre National Forest System in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service. Through community-based strategies and public-private partnerships, the NFF enhances wildlife habitat, revitalizes wildfire-damaged landscapes, restores watersheds, and improves recreational resources for the benefit of all Americans. The NFF’s Treasured Landscapes, Unforgettable Experiences national conservation campaign is uniting public and private partners to conduct large-scale forest and watershed restoration and revitalize ecosystem resiliency in iconic National Forest System sites around the nation.
The Tilt Gallery is tucked away on a stretch of 10th Avenue just north of Grand Avenue that is populated mostly by early 1900s bungalows (many still without proper air conditioning systems). Standing out front, one can see the varied colors and rooftops of Paisley Town, and though it’s just a block away, it seems like a million miles.
The Tilt, with its mangy exterior of funky-colored beams, white brick and ever-glowing accent lights, is the perfect setting for a display of Angela Franks Wells‘ work. In stark contrast, Wells’ prints — all in black, white and copper — mellow the space the likes most art couldn’t. The collection, called “Parts & Labor,” focuses on the dirty, rugged profession of Midwestern tradition: skilled labor.
Raised by a mechanic and a machinist, Wells, who has shot and taught photography in the Valley for years, knows a thing or two about hard labor. And, the aged hands, tattered clothes, oil-slicked furniture and old engine parts depicted here tell the story well. Wells traveled to independent shops of skilled laborers — mechanics, plumbers, welders and construction contractors — in search of these scenes and the tired souls that occupy them. Portrayed in copper-plated photogravure and gelatin silver prints, the testament to hard work comes through in eerie depiction. When you leave the Tilt this Third Friday, you’ll appreciate that beer down the street at the Paisley Violin a bit more.
The Tilt Gallery is located at 919 W. Fillmore St. 602.716.5667. Open 6-9 p.m. Third Friday.
On June 3 at 7pm at the Phoenix Art Museum, collaborating artists Mark Klett and Byron Wolfe discuss and illustrate their process of creating multi-layered photographic images of the Grand Canyon that document physical change and generate multiple meanings.
Drawn from two seasons of fieldwork, Charting the Canyon includes about 30 photographs ranging from a modest 20 by 20-inch print to a panorama nearly 10 feet wide. Mark Klett, a Regents Professor at Arizona State University, and Byron Wolfe, a former student of Klett’s who is now a Lantis’ University Professor teaches at California State University at Chico, have been interested in rephotographing historic images since their collaboration began in 1997.
Now the pair combines their own color photographs with imagery by 19th-century photographer J. K. Hillers and artist William Holmes and by Ansel Adams and Edward Weston, who worked at the Canyon in the early 20th century. Klett and Wolfe respond to the historic images and the Canyon itself, yielding artworks that reconsider an icon, challenge how people perceive the land, and bring a new perspective to its portrayals.
The gallery opened at the Phoenix Art Museum on March 21 and will continue until September 6. The Phoenix Art Museum is located at 1625 N. Central Ave.
For more information, call 602-257-1880 or visit www.phxart.org
The annual photo exhibit Shoot for the STARS is returning to Phoenix on Friday, May 1, open to the public from 6 to 9pm. The free exhibit will be open until May 30 but only by appointment.
Shoot for the STARS is a program designed to teach the joys of photography to adults with disabilities. Offered through STARS (Scottsdale Training and Rehabilitation Services), the program teaches participants to see beyond their immediate selves by looking through a camera and focusing their attention on people and objects around them.
Valley photographer Mark W. Lipczynski founded the program, which is now in its third year. Each fall, six participants take part in the 12-week program in which they use digital point-and-shoot cameras to document their surroundings. At the end of the program, a photo exhibit of their work is displayed wherever gallery space is available in the greater Phoenix area. The work is not for sale, but is meant for the public to gain perspective through the eyes of people with disabilities. It is also intended to showcase the tremendous ability of each participant.
This year, Release the Fear Inc., an organization whose mission is to spread empathy and understanding through the creative process, has contributed space at Grace Chapel for the Shoot for the STARS exhibit. The chapel is located at 302 W. Monroe St.
It is Lipczynski’s vision to see Shoot for the STARS exhibited Valleywide throughout the year to gain maximum exposure for STARS and all people with disabilities.
To schedule a viewing, call 480-588-7426.
For more information or gallery space contributions, visit www.marklipczynski.com