The Clarence John Laughlin Award 2017 Grantee Jerry Takigawa Balancing Cultures

This story needed to be told for two reasons—one political, one personal. Balancing Cultures is a family history project that bears witness to the tolerance and subsequent acceptance of a paradoxical dilemma. The images serve as a reminder of the injustices that can result from hysteria, racism, and economic exploitation. This work has also illuminated the origins of the Japanese American paradoxical worldview.

In 1942, Executive Order 9066 caused untold distress to all Japanese Americans on the west coast. My family experienced the humiliation of property loss, incarceration, and the challenge of re-integrating into American society after release from the WWII concentration camps—all without due process. How could they forgive such a travesty of justice? The Japanese have a saying for this—shikata ga nai—it cannot be helped. But it was gaman, or perseverance, understood by most post-war Japanese American families as “staying silent,” that distinguished the tolerance of their losses.

Making these images, my family’s shame and anger became visible. This work gives voice to a long-silenced family story. My family’s silence spared those around them much bitterness. Harmony and acceptance do not simply befall us. These characteristics come into being through the very act of seeking them. Susan Sontag said, “Polarities limit and imprison us.” We must consider that the divisive polarities we see in the world today are caused by an inability to live with duality.

Juror's Statement

How often does one have the opportunity to sort through the portfolios of ten artists that one has long admired? I will remember jurying for the Clarence John Laughlin Award as a significant experience of my lifetime.

Marina Font, Susan Kae Grant, Cig Harvey, Letitia Huckaby, Jennifer Schlesinger, Tara Sellios, Elizabeth Stone, Jerry Takigawa, Maggie Taylor, and Anna Tomczak were the ten photographer finalists I culled from a long list of submissions. I saw each of these finalists’ portfolios as testaments of the qualities sought for the recipient of the award. My search focused on finding evidence of “sustained artistic excellence” coupled with “creative vision.”

It is my opinion that each of these ten photographers deserves an award such as the Clarence John Laughlin Award. Each over the course of her/his artistic endeavors steers towards constant passage. Each has an exhibition record of note. Each lives the artist’s life. Imagination and signature styles and methodologies point to unique ways of perceiving the world each inhabits.

Of the ten finalists, I chose Jerry Takigawa as the recipient of the Clarence John Laughlin Award. What I have always appreciated in Jerry Takigawa’s work is that he doesn’t hit the viewer over the head with social commentary. He leads the viewer into the work by way of a quiet, often-meditative aesthetic. For those who choose to dig deeper than the beauty of the artwork, there is an additional underlying message such as in his False Food’s calling attention to the plastics pollution of Pacific waters as well as other bodies of water around the world. In Balancing Cultures, submitted for the Clarence John Laughlin Award, Jerry Takigawa uses historical artifacts, family photographs coupled with a Japanese American design sensibility for which he is noted. Yet in Balancing Cultures, Takigawa’s intent moves closer to the surface than in any of his other works.

As Takigawa says in his artist statement his “images serve as a reminder of the injustices that can result from hysteria, racism, and economic exploitation.” In another time I might have chosen another artist from my finalist choices as the awardee. In these current times, I wanted to award Jerry Takigawa as a reminder for us all to learn from the past and to learn to recognize a travesty of justice when put in motion.

Thank you to the New Orleans Photo Alliance for giving me this opportunity. Thank you to all photographers who submitted. As a museum director and curator, I have a special appreciation for all the work that went into the finalists gathering and preparing their portfolios to ship to me. Spending time alone with each of your artworks was such a gift that brought me much joy and other variations of emotions.

Paula Tognarelli

December 10, 2017




Congratulations to all of the Finalists in the 2017 The Clarence John Laughlin Award