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Phil Douglis | all galleries >> Galleries >> Gallery Two: Travel Incongruities > Remembrance, War Relocation Center, Manzanar, California, 2007
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Remembrance, War Relocation Center, Manzanar, California, 2007

More than 11,000 Japanese-American internees were enclosed by barbed wire in this mile square camp between 1942 and 1945. Some still rest in Manzanar's tiny cemetery -- including "Baby Jerry Obata." It is customary to leave broken offerings its graves as remembrances -- somebody has decorated this child's grave with a broken Elvis doll.
There are a number of incongruities in this image – the name is engraved in both Japanese and English; the fact that this is the grave of a baby whose entire short life may well have been spent behind barbed wire fences; and of course the broken Elvis doll lying helplessly, arm extended, amidst the stones left on the grave. The state of the doll is particularly poignant. It is a child’s toy, but Baby Jerry Obata never was able to play with it. Its legs have been twisted off, revealing a spring within the body. It was built for pleasure, but it was left here in sadness.

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Phil Douglis25-Oct-2007 18:38
You thoughts are appreciated, Marcia.
Marcia Manzello25-Oct-2007 16:28
Phil Douglis24-Aug-2007 23:28
Thanks for recognizing the value of the incongruous juxtaposition of toy to gravestone, Cyndy.
Guest 24-Aug-2007 22:26
Incongruity. Your image says it all. Wow.
Phil Douglis02-Jul-2007 20:44
Thank you, Daniel, for seeing in this image what I would hope you would see, and learning from it. Both Iris and Ceci are expressive photographers in their own right, and both are brilliantly articulate in expressing themselves about the meaning of pictures. You will learn much from them here, as well as from many of my other pbase students who comment frequently on my images. Each of them uses incongruity, abstraction and human values in their own images as well, each in their own style and for their own purposes. I am sure you can learn how others may think and see from studying their galleries as well as mine.
Guest 02-Jul-2007 20:30
Whatever thoughts or emotions that this picture caused have already been said by Cecilia and Iris. This photo is a great tool for learning. Many different components (Elvis toy, America, Japan, Relocation Center, Graveyard, etc) have been all brought together to create a striking image. Incredibly well done. Your eye for subjects and more importantly, your interpretation of them never cease to amaze me.
Phil Douglis22-Jun-2007 17:53
Thanks, Ceci, for expanding on Iris' commentary here. You broaden the irony and intensify the tragic nature of this image in the process. Iris said that the Elvis connection heightens the emotional impact of what Manzanar was all about. You talk about Elvis and this child being destroyed by similar forces. In the end, however, I continue to see this image as a staggering lesson in incongruity. I agree with you that seeing an iconic play figure here is the "height of opposites," given the cultural differences that are in play here.
Guest 22-Jun-2007 17:32
This image has many levels, one of which is the Elvis doll's presence on the grave of a Japanese child; to find an iconic play figure here seems to me the height of opposites, given that Presley personified aspects of a culture that couldn't have been farther removed from that of the Japanese -- people known for their control, rectitude, shyness, discipline, lack of outward expression, and very serious nature. I think Iris's comment about the "broken, twisted, abandoned" American values is right on, since there was no real reason for the imprisonment of all those Asian Americans other than pure fear. Given that Elvis was in effect "murdered" by the forces of commerce, greed and exploitation around him, you might say that those who died in this concentration camp were also murdered -- by by the similarly negative forces of shame, humiliation, hopelessness, resignation and powerlessness--not to mention whatever lack of medical oversight they had. This is a very poignant and emotional image, Phil!
Phil Douglis04-Apr-2007 07:09
Good point, Iris. I saw the iconic value of the Elvis toy as something built for pleasure but left in sadness. You took it one step further, as a comment on the perversion of American values that was Manzanar.
Iris Maybloom (irislm)03-Apr-2007 23:57
I see this toy as more than just a remembrance. This isn't any doll, it's an Elvis doll. I think this is important. He was/is an American icon. Here he is twisted, broken, abandoned in a place where American values were also twisted, broken, and abandoned. To put him at the gravesite of a child only heightens the emotional impact of what Manzanar was all about. For me this image is very poignant, but, sadly, not very incongruous.
Phil Douglis05-Mar-2007 18:59
You have to look at Elvis as a broken toy, Mo. That toy is being used here in remembrance of a child.
monique jansen05-Mar-2007 14:21
Elvis looks like he has been gruesomely murdered - a fate which leaves us to ask the question what happened to the baby
Phil Douglis02-Mar-2007 22:59
Thanks, Carol. It was fascinating to shoot this subject along with you and Tim last week. I look forward to your own version. We each have our own story to tell, and that is the way it should be.
Carol E Sandgren02-Mar-2007 19:47
Oh yes, our Elvis. i think we all have different views of this shot as well. Your straight-on closeup view is quite effective in contrast to the name on the gravestone.
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