HAYASHI, MASUMI (3 September1945- 17August 2006) was a Japanese-American photographer known for her panoramic collages capturing typically abandoned or isolated landscapes.

Hayashi, the child of Japanese immigrants Tomoi and Sakae, was born in the Gila River War Relocation Center, a [concentration/internment/prison] camp located south of Phoenix in the Gila River Indian Reservation. After the end of World War II, Hayashi and her family moved to southern Los Angeles. Hayashi married Charles Keesey in 1964, with whom she had two children: Dean Hayashi and Lisa Takata. The two would later divorce. Hayashi would earn her BFA from Florida State University in 1975 and her MFA in 1977. She would begin teaching at CLEVELAND STATE UNIVERSITY in 1982, where she would teach until her death in 2006. Outside of her work as a professor, Hayashi built an impressive career and earned widespread international recognition for her work.

Throughout her career, Hayashi used panoramic collages to capture various landscapes across the United States. She focused primarily on abandoned and dilapidated areas of important historical significance, such as abandoned prisons (1987-1996), EPA superfund sites (1989-1993), and other post-industrial landscapes (1986-1991). Although the majority of Hayashi’s work does not feature humans, the presence of humanity pervades throughout her work. Most of the landscapes she captures focus on nature recovering from human intervention. However, Hayashi noted that the beauty of her photographs belies the dangerous reality of the areas; despite their idyllic façade, the subjects of her photographs are still prisons and wastelands.

The unsettling beauty of Hayashi’s work is emphasized as a result of the medium she utilized. Her use of collages creates a timeless quality to her work; rather than capturing a landscape in a single moment in time, Hayashi breaks the landscape apart and separates it from any one specific moment. In the most extreme examples, Hayashi includes older photos and documents in her collages to offer context for the piece within itself. Rather than merely creating hauntingly beautiful landscapes, Hayashi encourages viewers to reflect on the history of a location.

The reflective nature of Hayashi’s work can be clearly seen in her later works. “Japanese-American Internment Camps” comprises of 22 panoramic collages of the ten Japanese-American [internment/concentration] camps during World War II. “Japanese-Canadian Internment Camps” consists of four similar landscape collages. Like Hayashi’s other work, the use of collage brings the collection outside of a specific moment in time. However, she supplements these landscapes with portraits of and interviews with former internees. Her “Family Album Project” contains photos taken within the camps during World War II; accompanying the photographs, Hayashi details their significance as well as the individuals behind and in front of the camera. This work highlights the historical importance of the locations she captured and emphasizes the reflective nature of her photographs.

Following her work on the Japanese American camps, Hayashi would travel abroad and capture religious temples in Asia as a Fulbright Scholar.

Outside of her international and national fame, Hayashi’s work had a profound impact on the Cleveland art scene. Her work in Cleveland includes panoramic landscapes of RTA stations, the CULTURAL GARDENS, as well as PUBLIC SQUARE. As a professor at Cleveland State University Hayashi inspired budding Cleveland artists.

Hayashi’s career came to an abrupt end on August 17, 2006, when she and fellow artist John Jackson were found brutally murdered by a neighbor, Jacob Cifelli, over a noise complaint. Cifelli eventually pled guilty and was sentenced to life in prison.

Hayashi’s legacy remains strong throughout the Cleveland and international art scene. Her work continues to be displayed throughout the world. Her son, Dean Keesey, maintains her website and upholds her legacy by preserving her work.

Michele Lew

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Francisco, Jason. “A Tower to Console the Dead and the Living: Masumi Hayashi and the Image of History.” Asian Diasporic Visual Cultures and the Americas 3 (2017). 275-291. https://jasonfrancisco.net/masumi-hayashi

Hayashi, Masumi. “American Concentration Camps: Gallery.” Masumi Hayashi Photography. 1996. Accessed on August 29, 2022. https://www.masumihayashi.com/html/gallery.html

Hayashi, Masumi. “Family Album Project.” Masumi Hayashi Photography. Accessed on August 29, 2022. https://www.masumihayashi.com/html/famalbum.html

Hayashi, Masumi. “The Landscape of Place and Memory.” Masumi Hayashi Photography. 1997. Accessed on August 29. 2022. https://www.masumihayashi.com/html/statement.html

Stylianou, Irene. “Female Photographers and Feminism: Part Twenty-Six.” Foto Femme United. April 5, 2021. https://www.fotofemmeunited.com/article/294

Thurber, Jon. “Masumi Hayashi.” The Washington Post. August 21, 2006.

Wakida, Patricia. “Masumi Hayashi.” Densho Encyclopedia. Accessed on August 29, 2022. Last modified December 2, 2014. https://encyclopedia.densho.org/Masumi_Hayashi/

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