Ushizo Oyama was born in Fukuoka, Japan in 1884, a time when photography was in its infancy. He immigrated to America in the 1920s, enrolling in an Illinois school of photography, learning the rudiments of a form that captivated him.
By the 1930s, he married a widow, Tsune, and opened a photographic studio in Sacramento, specializing in portraits. When the war broke out in l941, his family was forced to enter a succession of camps. The first of these was Wallerga, a holding camp; Tule Lake from 1942 to 1943; Jerome, Arkansas from 1943 to 1944. The final camp they entered was Amache, Colorado from 1944 to 1945.
Fortunately, the camp authorities did not confiscate his camera, nor his photographic equipment. During these years, authorities allowed photographs of groups, allotting him $18 a month to do so. Using his knowledge of photography, and most importantly, the equipment and skills needed to process the film, he took photos of internees that sought to record their organizations.
He had, in effect, preserved a part of American history.
The war ended in 1945 and for a brief period he went to Stillwater, Oklahoma to teach Japanese to ROTC students being sent to Japan. That job ended after a year.
Ultimately, the decision was made to go to the Boyle Heights area of Los Angeles. The family stayed at the Evergreen Hostel, interim housing for Japanese Americans returning from the camps and funded by Union Church.
Unable to re-establish his photographic studio, he was employed by Clifton’s Cafeteria as a dishwasher of pots and pans, eventually retiring from that job.
He lived out the rest of his life with his wife, Tsune, and their two children. A younger son died as a teenager in Oklahoma.
In his later years, the photographer of life among the internees developed Alzheimer’s, erasing the memories of his own life but leaving behind a photographic legacy of those in the internment camps.
Submitted by Sachi Oyama, Ushizo Oyama’s daughter-in-law.