This essay examines the civil rights photography of Tamio Wakayama. In 1963, Wakayama, a twenty-year-old Japanese Canadian philosophy student, left the University of Western Ontario and joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). A self-taught photographer, he shot pictures of SNCC’s grassroots organizing activities in Georgia, Mississippi, and Alabama. Upon returning to Canada, Wakayama became the photographer for the Student Union for Peace Action (SUPA). In 1965 and 1966, he toured Canada taking pictures of SUPA’s community empowerment projects in urban slums and on reservations. The majority of photographs collected in Wakayama’s first photography book, Signs of Life (1969), come from his time as a field photographer for SNCC and SUPA. In this essay, I argue that Wakayama’s representations of race in Signs of Life encourage his audience to see civil rights activists’ demands for meaningful racial reform and redress as both legitimate and urgently necessary. Wakayama’s photographs of African American and Native struggles against racial segregation’s material and psychological effects reveal the US South and Canada’s shared histories of racialized dispossession, dehumanization, and discrimination.


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pp. 124-146
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