This blog will complement my photographic work on the Chinatowns of the United States & Canada, starting with the first solo exhibition of the project at Craig Krull Gallery in Santa Monica, CA. The imagery stands on its own but my travels through over 50 Chinatowns in the last fifteen+ years and the stories of those whom I have met as well as the many organizations involved with this history and continuing present deserve attention. I am eager to share my journey.

Thursday, January 5, 2017


I was getting into my car this past Friday when I was messaged that my friend, 106-year old artist Tyrus Wong, had just died. 

This wonderful man, an artist who combatted racial barriers, was the oldest living graduate of Otis Art Institute here in Los Angeles.  His work was the inspiration for Disney's BAMBI, and someone whom I was honored to know in the last decade+ of his long and creative, courageous life

I was turning onto the PCH on this rainy/cloudy day and knew I had to stop at the beach where Tyrus, the subject of a longterm photo project made possible only by the gracious acceptance of me and my camera by Tyrus and his wonderful family, brought his handmade kites for over 40 years to fly. I last captured him there last summer even at the grand age of 105.
 

Today, though overcast, the sky looked like one of Tyrus' beautiful paintings. The wind which Tyrus would have so appreciated seemed to be whisking him away to another place.

 

His family told me that my photograph of Tyrus in a deep fog on a New Years Eve Day some years ago, only one day from now, was one they placed at the foot of his bed and he continued to comment on it for its loveliness.
I am so honored to have known and learned from him. RIP, Tyrus Wong. 


The New York Times published news of Tyrus' death on their front page with a beautiful inside obit.  the Times requested my photograph of Tyrus mentioned above for their article. 



Saturday, February 20, 2016

SaraJaneBoyersPhoto_2016 Lunar New Year Greeting



HAPPY LUNAR NEW YEAR!
GUNG HAY FAT CHOY!   Xīn Nián Kuài Lè!




I am so pleased to send out my annual LUNAR NEW YEAR GREETING, the continuation of my 15+ years of exploration of the Chinatowns of the United States and Canada for my long-term photographic project, FINDING CHINATOWN: AN AMERICAN STORY.  Most of the principal photography for the project is completed - still to definitely explore: Honolulu and Calgary! - yet, at the time of the Spring Festival that is the start of the Lunar New Year, I am always drawn back to the Chinatown of my youth, that of downtown Los Angeles where my father worked. And, while this annual visit has expanded over the years to the grander and newer venues of LA County's San Gabriel Valley, this year it was refreshing albeit a bit disconcerting to return to DTLA.

Below is one of my very early in the project (2005) photographs of the New Year's festivities: a film capture from my pre-digital (and still lamented) period that is also prompting me to return to my transparency files to see what else I might have captured then that have not yet been scanned.  Who knows what else I might find!





We are now in the Year of the Monkey, commencing with the Spring Festival that started with the Lunar New Year on Monday, 8 February 2016 and continues until the Lantern Festival on 22 February, 15 days after the start of the New Year.   On the Chinese calendar, it is now Year 4713, a year that continues until 27 January 2017. If you are born in the Year of the Red Fire Monkey your character is smart, clever and a bit tempestuous.

There are many ways to celebrate the Spring Festival not only in the United States but around the world as cultural diversity is a factor in the traditional activities. Several explanations of the Spring Festival and specifically, the Lunar New Year and the Lantern Festival are on links noted here.  In some cities, there may be Lantern Festival celebrations this weekend and I encourage you to experience this moment!

We were out in DTLA's Chinatown the day prior, Sunday 7 February, to capture the New Years Eve festivities. As in past years, we wandered with our friends, Eugene and Susan Moy whom we met at the Chinese Historical Society of  Southern California of which Eugene is President Emeritus. CHSSC is located in two 19th century buildings on Bernard Street that hold a lovely collection of the Chinese American experience.  With exhibits and monthly talks, the CHSSC is open to all by appointment and on Sundays by walk-in from 1-5pm.

Waiting for all to arrive, I had a chance to capture a bit more there including the library with shelves full of Chinese American-related history and an incredibly beautiful 60 year-old lion dancer mask used primarily in New Year's ceremonies to ward off evil and to bless temples, business and even weddings.  We'll see more of the dancers later in the night.  http://www.nationsonline.org/oneworld/Chinese_Customs/lion_dance.htm




And then we walked... peeking into stores and restaurants replete with New Year's offerings, hoping to find some early evening preparations and celebrations and, of course, have a "family" meal.  As always in LA, the cultures mash together and although closed early for the New Year, a temple that overlooks Philippe's - an historic eating venue that has line-ups during Dodger Games - intrigues and calls for a visit to view its multi-headed Buddha. That same location is also only one block away from the original Chinatown in Los Angeles and the historic founding center of the city, Olvera Street and it's original mission church.  Nearby however, an historic building, a market, stood out in this fast-changing Chinatown.  Simple, modest but representative of the history and services available in one of the major entry points of new American populations.  Nearby is a vinyl record store, a Thai restaurant and other evidence of LA's diverse influences and culture.





As noted in previous Lunar New Year greetings, things are changing. Neighborhoods historically undesirable and where ethnic and racial immigrant group were once ghettoized have become new hot urban real estate. With this gentrification there is loss. Property values have increased and new investment, while giving lip service to what has come before, changes the living conditions.

My home, Los Angeles, leads the pack and 'pack" is an appropriate word as developers slink in. As we walk Chinatown's streets, construction abounds with lofts with high rental/sale rates.  Newer immigrants from SE Asia and elsewhere cannot afford these prices and there results a disintegration of communities that prepare these newer populations for the US.

Yet some stay. Brigham Yen's blog, DTLA Rising, notes the brand new Southern California Teo Chew Association (or "Teo-chew") Cultural Center/Buddhist Temple that opened just the day prior to our tour. The Teo-Chew population, whose dialect is distinctly their's, initially emigrated from Guangdong province. In recent decades they arrived in LA from various stopovers of a generation or so in Southeast Asia. From Brigham's early post (2013): "I am very glad to see new cultural projects like this still being invested in Chinatown as it shows that the Chinese community is still involved, and as a result, helps keep the district’s cultural and historical identity alive."

Built upon the old Center's land and with a beautiful new gate, the temple is a stunning traditional design.  I had photographed in the old store-front building a few years ago so it was exciting to visit their spanking new structure; so new that construction ladders were still on the floor. Just like the Thien Hau Temple, our final destination this New Year's Eve, that I had first photographed over 10 years ago in its old building and then visited the day of its new temple's inauguration, the Teo-Chew Center is presently pristine: no smoke from incense yet softens the view; the wall-framed canvas still vacant of ribbons and symbols of donors' generous gifts for luck and success.  Like Thien Hau, the elegance is there and the personality will soon come.


 



Teo-Chew was getting ready for a spectacular New Year's Eve, a new alternative to the crowds at Thien Hau Temple a block away, sharing pyrotechnicians and lion dancers.  So we ambled over to Thien Hau just in case their fireworks were early and, at 11pm rather than midnight, they were.

The crowds had gathered earlier to pray over incense and offerings and to wander the temple. By the time we arrived, almost all were outside, including so many children whose late night New Year's Eve outing promises long lives. Remaining inside the temper were those who no doubt wished to be as near as possible to the lion dancers when they entered so they could touch them for good luck.  On side tables along the back others were engaged in New Year's Day prep: chopping lettuce and vegetables for the vegetarian soup to be traditionally served starting after midnight.

From the cool silent sparkle of Teo-Chow, all here on the street and inside was busy, crowded and very red, a color of good luck.







As always, I am thankful to the many in Chinatown who allow me to share this holiday with them.  As midnight comes, we are offered food and wishes for the start of this new year.  The traditions of the New Year are longstanding, full of symbolism and meaning and the graciousness of celebrants to others underlies the evening.  Let us all hope that we can follow in these footsteps.




Photographic Project Updates!
Several very good announcements soon that aren't quite yet pubic so here just a quick update:

TYRUS, filmmaker Pamela Tom's longterm labor of love about 105 year-old artist Tyrus Wong, is making festival rounds,  On 10 March, its screening is the opening night event at San Francisco's prestigious CAAM FEST sponsored by the Center for Asian American Media.  I am honored that my photographs of Tyrus out at the beach were used in the main end title credits.  TYRUS, the Movie is winning award after award on the festival circuit.





CHINESE AMERICAN: EXCLUSION/INCLUSION, the comprehensive exhibition organized by and held last year at the New York Historical Society and in which I have several photographs of Tyrus Wong, is now at the Oregon Historical Society in Portland  through 1 June 2016.





DETROIT:DEFINITION, my long-term project on the city of my birth continues.  In January I made my 10th visit to this amazing city that is proving itself to be an example of how cities can not only survive but regenerate in a creative 21st Century manner.  More current images are presently online on my website, sarajaneboyersphoto.com, including installation views from my exhibition this past Fall at Maison de la Photographie in Lille, France as part of the LILLE3000/Renaissance Triennale.


A catalog of the show can be viewed online at https://issuu.com/sarajaneboyersphoto/docs/detroit_definitionatmaisonphoto_lil

I was so honored that this past Fall's Detroit Homecoming Conference created a wall poster of my work and printed a photo of mine on their conference booklet cover.

Best: some exciting news about this project soon to come!

Below: my birth home through the visits...



Gung Hay Fat Choy!





Friday, March 6, 2015

SaraJaneBoyersPhoto_2015 Lunar New Year Greeting




HAPPY LUNAR NEW YEAR!

GUNG HAY FAT CHOY!   Xīn Nián Kuài Lè!
羊 yáng


Inspired as always by my adventures in photographing for my long-term photographic project, FINDING CHINATOWN: AN AMERICAN STORY, I conducted my annual visit to the greater Southern California Chinatowns to photograph the Lunar New Year.  The dates of this 15 day celebration, the Spring Festival, vary each year as the Chinese calendar directs the start and finish of this holiday, the last day known as the Lantern Festival.  That festival just ended and we are now officially in the
Chinese calendar year, 4713.

I am in the 15th year of my FINDING CHINATOWN: AN AMERICAN STORY photographic project, one that I do not pursue as actively as before nevertheless  the Lunar New Year each year reminds me of the strong story the Chinatowns reveal that is meaningful to all of us here in North America and certainly beyond. That story is about our continuing social and cultural evolution, especially in this past 100 years with the greater opportunities for travel, combined with recognition of the very many communities in our nations.  Photographing in the greater Southern California Chinatowns reminds us of the wealth of diversity that influences what we eat, what we learn and how we approach one another.  Combined with the joy and tradition of a New Year, it is a joyous moment.

The zodiac animal of this year's celebration is a bit inexact: THE [wood] GOAT or THE RAM or THE SHEEP.  Various websites offer different interpretations of the animal symbol for this year but this one, from ChinaHighlights.com explains it well:

Chinese symbol for sheep"Is It the Year of the Sheep, Goat, or Ram?

Actually, Chinese people are also not quite sure about that. In Chinese the word 羊 (yáng) is a generic term, and can refer to a sheep (绵羊), goat (山羊), ram/buck (公羊 male sheep or goat), 羚羊 (antelope), etc. There is a lack of clear definition on the zodiac "Goat" in Chinese history.
However, most Chinese people and experts on folklore believe that the Chinese zodiac animal is the Goat, not the Sheep, and they have some evidence to support their idea...
... the Chinese zodiac is an invention of the Han Nationality, and goats were widely raised by the Han people (unlike sheep), so the zodiac animal is more likely to refer to a goat.
... a Goat image often appears on Chinese zodiac stamps, New Year paper cuttings, and New Year paintings (not a sheep).
... the Goat was one of the 12 bronze statues of the Chinese zodiac at the Old Summer Palace. Although its head was lost, its present reproduction according to historical records is the image of a goat."

For those born in this zodiac year, you are known to be artistic, gentle, kindhearted, social and relatively healthy.  For the rest of us, a year of harmony in general is promised.  Several sites to investigate:
http://www.chinahighlights.com/travelguide/chinese-zodiac/goat.asp
http://www.china-family-adventure.com/year-of-the-sheep.html#.VO4gbsaNtQI

http://astrologyclub.org/chinese-horoscope/2015-year-sheep/
http://www.chinesefortunecalendar.com/2015ChineseHoroscope.htm


Not having many opportunities to photograph goats wandering through Los Angeles recently, I made the editorial choice to depict the sheep banner chosen by Beverly Hills for the New Year (as well as a couple of Malibu stars from my sheepherding days).  Finally and after way too long, American cities have finally awakened to the realization that there is a large and growing population of Americans of Asian descent who have been continually making substantial contribution to our knowledge, culture and wealth for at least 150+ years of our country's existence.  It seems about time.
This year, instead of a mammoth run to as many temples as we could visit and joined again by Susan and Eugene Moy - Eugene, the President Emeritus of the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California - we decided to return to one or two previously visited and explore the new year's experience more meaningfully there.  We also decided to eat, using a recent LA Weekly article on the "Best Chinese Restaurants in LA." and landed at a terrific restaurant in a Rosemead strip mall: Shaanxi Gourmet, decorated by replicas of the terra cotta warriors from their central mainland province and with a menu noted for long and delicious handmade biang biang noodles and dumplings, especially from the region's capital, Xian.

Several links to this cuisine around the United States:
http://www.sfgate.com/recipes/article/Burgers-and-pasta-Chinese-style-a-taste-of-5517654.php
http://www.latimes.com/food/dailydish/la-dd-xian-kitchen-shaanxi-city-of-industry-20141208-story.html
http://www.splendidtable.org/story/xian-famous-foods-bringing-a-little-known-chinese-cuisine-to-new-york-city
http://www.travelchinaguide.com/cityguides/shaanxi/xian/xian-dumpling-dinner.htm


The majority of the evening was spent at Waken Temple, a Buddhist temple on Lower Azusa Road in El Monte.  According to tradition is it important to pray on the Eve, from around 10pm to midnight, the "first hour" of the New Year.  As distinct from many of the "family" temples, Waken offers a more substantive spiritual experience, including a lecture by the Master - here in Chinese and following in English - that exhorted us to understand not only the blessings but the mistakes and failures one encounters.  We sat on cushions, having shed our shoes at the entrance.  As the New Year is approached, incense candles are lit and deposited at the smoky altar outside the entrance and worshippers line up before the Master for a palm leaf blessing of luck and prosperity for the New Year.  Within the serene interior, simply and elegantly organized altars and images of the buddha, here the Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva; it certainly became a moment to pray.

Far from Thien Hau's traditional midnight fireworks display in downtown LA, we left Waken Temple before midnight to again honor the New Year at the Hai Nam Association of Southern California, noted for their electrified lion dancers.  It is an association I have been visiting for many years, first in downtown LA and since 2010 in their new building in El Monte.  Modeled on historic structures similar to the early Chinese temples, it is full of celebrants moving from one buddha's altar to another, lighting incense, bowing and praying before each Buddha, shaking sticks and other devices to advance lucky chances for the next year. By this time of the night, the scent and smoke from the incense candles can be overpowering while enhancing the mysticism of these symbolic rituals. Right after midnight, we enjoyed the first soup of the year, vegetarian as are all meals on the New Year day.
On New Year's Day I returned to the downtown Los Angeles Chinatown to wander and, as always, to visit the Thien Hau Temple, the building of their new building in 2005 an event that convinced me to continue with my FINDING CHINATOWN project.   Not yet understanding enough then about why I was so interested in photographing the Chinatowns of the US & Canada, Thien Hau helped reveal to me not only the history of my home Chinatown but also became symbolic of the very American story that I was capturing: the continuing and changing immigration patterns to this country of promise that drew so many of our families here.  Here is living history of the Americas, a tale of early traditions, immigration, exclusion, then inclusion (somewhat) and a gradual weaving of many strands that comprise a continually evolving fabric of our populations.

Specifically in the Chinatowns, first populated primarily by people arriving from the Guangdong province/Cantonese,  then in the last 30+ years or so many from Taiwan and Hong Kong and then again, even as later generations of the early Cantonese speakers moved out into the general national population, others from Asia and Southeast Asia arrived, taking over buildings and neighborhoods. This is a typical immigration pattern also experienced by earlier religious and ethnic groups who upon first arrival and for a generation or two gathered together in like-speaking neighborhoods, voluntarily and not-so-voluntarily, then moved on into the general population.

Thien Hau is a Los Angeles example of a second or third phase of change.  Its founding congregants were ethnic Chinese from Vietnam, part of the "boat people."   Ten/eleven  years ago, when I first visited, the large new temple was in construction, based upon an original temple in China's Camau district and built with imported materials from China by imported-for-this-project Chinese craftsmen.  Its construction signaled a new fresh approach to the aging Downtown Chinatown and where, in typical California fashion, the old building that housed ThienHau transitioned over time from a small Italian Baptist church to a Mandarin Baptist one to ultimately the small older Thien Hau Temple.  In 2005, the old temple was destroyed in very typical American fashion, to make way for a parking lot for the new temple.  There I photographed its last days.

Now, ten years later more change in coming into the downtown Chinatown as more temples have been built by ethnic Chinese from Cambodia, and yet, even as these rise, the Chinatown itself is mirroring Los Angeles downtown's residential boom with the greater population, the cost of living is rising and many of the older or the newer immigrant families have left and another city change is coming.  Such is the nature of our US cities.  Nevertheless, the New Year's day is full of good will.  Families arrive here from all over Southern California, often outfitted in traditional clothing, much of it red for good luck, coming to the temple  for prayers, for vegetarian meals, for introducing their often American-born children to the traditional ways, and the Spring Festival begins.
 
As noted, the downtown LA Chinatown is in great flux today.  This Chinatown - created when the early 20th century population was evicted from on of their first neighborhoods where Union Station now stands and moving several times to this more northwestern block, originally Italian-ethnic - again tells a history of civic transition as the recent cycle of gentrification encompassed first the mix of contemporary art galleries alongside several generational Chinese tourist emporiums, best represented by the stores and buildings on Chung King Road.  Now, change is occurring again as the art galleries and lofts that had replaced several street level shops are themselves being replaced by a wealthier, younger even more trendy demographic that is returning to downtown LA and filling it up with architecture studios, entrepreneurs, coffee shops and all the accoutrements of today.

I spent a moment with Alex Cheung, owner of the Alex Cheung Company (est. 1971), the last emporium to remain on Chung King Road.  When Alex retires it will be over and Chinatown, albeit created intentionally as a tourist attraction in the '30s, will represent another world.  While the great temples, Thien Hau among them, as well as the Chinatown Plaza will no doubt remain, many who lived and worked here have moved on into the greater fabric of the region or moved at the least into the greater modern "chinatowns" of the San Gabriel Valley. The SGV is as well, is now the place where tourists from the Mainland go.

My annual Lunar New Year visit helps me again experience this story of our world today, and not only in the Americas, for we are in a world of change with populations fitting not always perfectly but ultimately finding themselves together, acknowledging and best, enjoying the gifts we all bring each other.  It strengthens and enriches who we are and ultimately we all become our country's "nationals," not without our own distinct history if we choose but with it plus the experiences we gain in our new lands.  That is the story of who we are and in the Chinatowns, it is vibrant every day.

Gung Hay Fat Choy!


Photographic Project Updates!

PHOTO LA 2015, SarahLeePROJECTS booth: The event in January was wonderful and busy.  I exhibited with other LA-based photographers, Aline Smithson, Ann Mitchell and Martin Cox. Sarah Lee did an impressive job of curating and installing us.
Thanks to all who came out.


Opening in New York City on 26 March at the Museum of Chinese in America WATER TO PAPER: PAINT TO SKY, the traveling retrospective of 104 year old artist, Tyrus Wong. This exhibition originated in 2013 at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco.  In the Maya Lin-designed building at MOCA/NYC, I am sure  it will be terrific.  The exhibition contains 10 large prints of mine capturing Tyrus, his family and friends at the Santa Monica Beach where for the last 40+ years he has come to fly his hand-designed/made kites.

I will be there for the opening and if you are in the New York area, I recommend you make a trip. The exhibit will be up through
13 September.

Previewing at ParisPhotoLA in early May is the Metropolis Books/D.A.P. book: BOTH SIDES OF SUNSET: PHOTOGRAPHING LOS ANGELES.  I will have several images in the book of Carmageddon on the 405 from my GRIDLOCK project.  I am privileged to be among a host of master photographers included in this publication. 
Excited as well about the potential opportunity to create the first exhibit my ongoing DETROIT:DEFINITION project in Europe this coming Fall. News to follow but excited about this now!

I will photographing again in Detroit at the end of this month.  If you are there, let me know.

 
As always, my thanks to members of the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Valley Chinatown communities for extending their welcome to me as I go about the New Years.

Sara Jane Boyers, March 2015





Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Even before the 2015 Lunar New Year Eve....

I am embarrassed that I have not kept up my blog for the Finding Chinatown project is always on my mind and recently, when I re-organized my studio and purchased more flat files, I had the opportunity to review my exhibition pics that are so lovely and were the subject of such good reviews in my solo show at Craig Krull Gallery in Santa Monica, now four years ago.

I have been thinking about this show as the Walt Disney Family Museum's retrospective - WATER TO PAPER: PAINT TO SKY - on my friend Tyrus Wong, now 104, travels to New York's Museum of Chinese in America, to open to the public on 25 March.  I will be there but best, so will Tyrus!  It is more than time that he is honored not only in California but throughout the nation for his beautiful paintings, sketches, ceramics and of course, his handmade kites!  It will be a good year.

On the eve of the Year of the Sheep/Ram/Goat, I realize that I made no post last year although again, I was out and about in the greater Los Angeles area photographing so many celebrants and temples not only on the eve but on the Saturday thereafter.  On the eve, we toured with Eugene Moy and his wife Susan to wander, our second year of adventuring together, and it was wonderful.  Eugene is the former chairman of the CHSSC (see below) and his knowledge is encyclopaedic but even he was in awe of the great diversity and wealth of presentations of the New Year celebration.  We are all joining together for 2015 again!

Here, quickly is a sampling from those photographs.  The locales vary from downtown's Chinese Historical Society of Southern California (CHSSC) where traditional flags were being readied to carry in the Chinatown parade, to temples in the San Gabriel Valley.  Everywhere there was excitement about the new year, welcoming celebrants and of course, good food!

More to come after the festivities and traditional events for the Year of the Sheep start getting underway!  Happy New Year!






 


Monday, February 25, 2013

The Year of the Black Water Snake 2013



HAPPY LUNAR NEW YEAR
GUNG HAY FAT CHOY

新年快乐

For almost a decade now, my FINDING CHINATOWN project has included an annual visit to the greater Los Angeles Chinatowns to photograph the Chinese/Lunar New Year.  Each year has deepened my understanding and appreciation of the diversity of the culture and tradition of the New Year, especially as it evolves in this American story.

This is the YEAR OF THE BLACK WATER SNAKE, a year within the traditional twelve sign zodiac, that carries both difficult characteristics combined though with a warmth and good sense of communication.  It is a year of progress and attention to detail. 


In Chinatown Plaza in downtown Los Angeles

On the eve of the New Year, Saturday 9 February, I met up with Eugene & Susan Moy at the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California (CHSSC).  Eugene is actively involved in the greater Los Angeles American Chinese community, including his position as President Emeritus of the CHSSC and current Board Member of the Chinese American Museum.  Between his in depth historical knowledge of the Chinese immigration throughout the United States and Susan's visual eye - she has recently retired as an art instructor at Glendale Community College - we were on our way to an emotional, educational and terrific journey during which Eugene planned to traditionally honor his recently deceased mother by lighting incense to her memory in as many places of worship as possible on the New Year.  And so he did and, so did we: eight temples and associations starting in downtown Los Angeles to Lincoln Heights, Alhambra, and El Monte and then back to LA.

It was an extraordinary adventure, not the least of it was the eight visits within 7 hours.
The first: the QUAN YUM TEMPLE on North Broadway contained traditional altars, a convent for Buddhist nuns, plus one of the few remaining funereal rooms of another day.  Following the Tao/Dao tradition, a young reverand spoke about the offerings among the urns, the Master's writing tablets encased in a clear vitrine and the symbolism of the Kuan Yin with "1000 pieces."  The story: that the buddhisattva tried so hard to do good that ultimately she was split into many pieces (the many arms of the golden statue) so she could finally accomplish all that she intended.

Next to the AMERICAN VIETNAM CHINESE FRIENDSHIP ASSOCIATION, also on North Broadway.  Not a formal "temple" but an association, the AVCFA provides both places for worship as well as for community resources.  Its very title speaks to the great diversity of ethnic Chinese in the Southen California area: 19th & 20th century immigrants from the Guangdon province, mid-century immigration from Taiwan and more recent immigration of ethnic chinese from Southern Asia.  This was apparent from our conversation with the AVCFA's security guard: 72 years old and conversant in seven languages from French to Vietnamese, English and four chinese dialects, including Mandarin and Cantonese.


 Imagery above from Quan Yum and more from the AVCFA (I also visited there last year).  In the closet are the brooms ritually used to sweep out the evil spirts in preparation for the New Year.   They are then literally "closeted" away for the first days of the year to keep the spirits from returning.

The mood changed as we departed downtown LA for the San Gabriel Valley and the next two temples: the Chong Hua Tong Moral Association in Alhambra and the World I-Kuan Tao Headquarters, the first of a number of temples that line El Monte's "Temple Row" on Lower Azusa Avenue. Both temples belong to more formal Tao orders and even though we were early - most people start to gather at the temples at nine or ten pm after family dinners - there was a pervasive atmosphere of quiet, mixed with ritual chanting and incense offerings.

CHONG HUA TONG MORAL ASSOCIATION is unassuming, located at the back of a parking lot. I had visited this temple for their Sunday meetings some years ago and carried away the impression of a serious meditative and literate tradition. We waited outside the sanctuary while a new member was inducted.  When complete, the Master - a beautiful woman in white robes with a face that radiated goodness - spoke expressively to us in Mandarin, translated by a member there even for Eugene whose family dialect was Cantonese, about the Dao tradition and pointed out the shortened incense sticks and symbolic ash, representing Earth, to be used in the chanting ceremony, soon commenced when the Master and another woman serially lit incense sticks for each Buddha, bowing and engaging in ritual chant that varied, it seemed, only by name. In dramatic contrast to the other temples we visited, it was apparent that the New Year celebration here was not to be the typical crowded gathering but instead, a personal time of reflection and commitment.

We were again struck by the openness and willingness to welcome us and explain tradition, a characteristic not only of the New Year, but also in so many of the Chinatowns I had visited for FINDING CHINATOWN.  Before we left, we were offered a ritual New Year's sweet, to start it off with something good and rich.

The quiet was also characteristic of the WORLD I-KUAN TAO HEADQUARTERS, located on "Temple Row," right next to another temple.  Here youth prepared for a small midnight presentation while the vast and generally unadorned upstairs sanctuary was quiet with only the occasional individual lighting incense.  At the Headquarters, the New Year starts not at midnight but at 11pm on the Eve, following an older Chinese tradition and partially as a result of the symbolic attachment of "bad" to even numbers and that fact that traditional Asian time calculation is broken into two hour periods rather than one.  The offerings were also presented in groups of odd numbers, e.g., five rather than four (four is an especially malevolent number).  They are also symbolic.  For example, the sound of the name for apples is similar to that of "peace," and thus, apples are often brought as offerings.
 
 In the Dao tradition, congregants use prayer cushions, set up at the Chong Hua Tong Moral Association  and at the "Headquarters,” lined up against the walls, waiting.

A return to exuberance for the remaining temples we visited on "Temple Row" that were open for the night.  There were more, some not open that evening, and others, just too many to view as the midnight hour approached.  The next two, respectively contiguous and opposite the World I-Kuan Tao Headquarters.
Separated only by a wall from the Headquarters, WAKEN TEMPLE is stunning, its central space focused on an intense blue wall where shelves of Buddha’s and artful plants are precisely arranged.  It is in the Mahayana Buddhist/Tibetan Buddhist tradition of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara and the Prajna-Paramita Heart Sutra that states, "Form is empty (Śūnyatā). Emptiness is form," all leading to a search for the ultimate truth (ref: Wikipedia).

We shed our shoes at the doorway. The crowds were large but within was an overall sense of restraint.  Many were seated on prayer cushions, quietly reading from the Sutra.  Others were lighting beautiful votives.  Others on the phone (it IS LA... ) Crowds were arriving in anticipation of the New Year.

QUAN AM BUDDHIST FELLOWSHIP is directly across from Waken Temple and the World I-Kuan Tao Headquarters.  It was not at first apparent that this was a temple and we almost drove by it however as we noticed others visiting, we parked again.  Thus we entered a former small house from the back driveway, the rooms saturated with the scent of flowers and overwhelming visual treats.   Altars, tables and walls were filled with gold Buddha’s (including the red Buddha, the Laughing Buddha and many others that serve to protect the space and tradition), photographs, flower vases containing symbolic flowers (yellow chrysanthemums throughout), carpets on top of carpets. and monks and Master in attendance, greeting each who entered.  The Fellowship appears to follow Vietnamese/Chinese cultural norms. A kitchen where the New Year's Day vegetarian meal was being prepared and a garden/nursery were behind.

All was presided over by the Master, educated extensively in both Eastern and Western tradition, the latter including a Masters in Divinity from Berkeley, who invited us to share tea with him.   The Tea Ceremony was elaborate, beautiful and memorable, characterized by a ritual warming of the tea by pouring hot water over the teakettle repeatedly, accompanied again by sweet cakes for the holiday.

  
On El Monte's "Temple Row:" Waken Temple & the Quan Am Buddhist Fellowship

Midnight was fast approaching as we headed south on Lower Azusa Road in search of another temple and discovered PURELAND LOTUS COMMUNITY/PHUOC HUE WORSHIPING CENTER, another modern temple built in what is starting to seem to us a typical pattern: walled, parking lot in front (and on these very deep El Monte lots, also in back), two story with sanctuary and a community center, also in the back.  At Pureland, the sanctuary is divided into three rooms, the foremost grand but the others equally resplendent with richly stained wooden altars covered with Buddhas and flowers  The New Year's Day vegetarian soup was already being served in the back room.

We rushed from there for one last visit: the HAI NAM ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA.   http://www.hainamusa.org  As with the Chua Ba Thien Hau Temple in downtown Los Angeles, the Hai Nam Association is one to which I frequently return and, in fact, was until two years ago located opposite Thien Hau.  The new temple replicates one in Hai Nam, China from which many of its attendees emigrated, via two generations in Vietnam.

We arrived only a few moments past midnight and while fireworks explode there on New Year's Day only, the lion dancers were finishing their first performance.  The dancers introduced this night the "very first" electrified lion mask in California, eyes shining through the glittery glass.

Smoke from the incense managed to fill even the vast sanctuary and at back, the commmunity hall was filled with celebrants partaking in the clear soup and sweet cakes.  I was recognized from previous visits and again so graciously welcomed. It is an honour to share this tradition here.   Eugene and Susan also have friends here, especially the current president of the association.   A perfect way for all of us to end an amazing evening.

  
Floral at Pureland Lotus Community & Midnight at Hai Nam Association


We who live in Southern California are among the lucky ones for in the Chinatowns is yet another doorway into North America that remains open, providing a large and very diverse view into some of the identities, traditions and cultures that make up our nations, no matter how many generations before and after.  Traveling around at the New Year's, especially this one, once again demonstates the strength of the fabric of the American Story that weaves together us all.

My thanks as always to the very many people who welcomed us into their celebrations, fed us and provided the grounding upon which this experience is based.  My gratitude as well to Eugene and Susan Moy who so graciously shared all this with me. 
 




I was additionally planning to use this New Year's Greeting as an update, long overdue, on my photographic activities.  But this experience was so extensive and intensive and I have written more than planned and will leave a specific update for later.

Suffice to say that 2012 was wonderfully busy.  Starting from my last New Year's Greeting in February 2012, I participated in six exhibitions including the FotoFreo Biennial in Australia and, in the first six months of the year, had photographs published in several magazines including Architectural Record.  During the year my photographs garnered several awards, I commenced a serious investigation into architectural photography as a fine art, attended two well-received portfolio reviews (Palm Springs and the FotoFest Lens Culture/Paris reviews) and more!


In 2013, already my architectural fine art portfolio - REVISIT.RENEW.NEW - is growing and the early work can be seen on my website, http://www.sarajaneboyersphoto.com.  In May, I am looking forward to an extensive visit to Detroit to resume and explore further for DETROIT DEFINITION and then in August, I am honored to be featured in a major retrospective of one of my favorite artists, 102 year-old TYRUS WONG, who continues to amaze and will be so honored by the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco.  I will be exhibiting there my photographic "story" of Tyrus and his hand-made kites.

More to come...


Gun Hay Fat Choy!




Sara Jane Boyers
sjboyers@sarajaneboyersphoto,com
www.sarajaneboyersphoto.com
www.sarajaneboyersisaloud.blogspot.com
www.findingchinatown.blogspot.com
www.detroitdefinition.blogspot.com
All images and text ©Copyright 2013  Sara Jane Boyers, All rights Resersved

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

TYRUS WONG: BRUSHSTROKES IN HOLLYWOOD

Good things happening for my friend, Tyrus Wong, a national treasure as an artist, animator and now at 102, the subject of a documentary by filmmaker, Pamela Tom, that is nearing completion.

TYRUS WONG: BRUSHSTROKES IN HOLLYWOOD follows Tyrus from his journey to the United States at age 7 with his father, through his young teen years as a scholarship student - they never knew how young he was! - at Otis Art Institute, through his both commercial and fine art career as an artist - the man responsible for the look of Disney's classic Bambi!  Today he is the oldest living graduate of Otis.



I have been photographing Tyrus for several years now when he, in his fourth decade of retirement, brings his handmade kites to Santa Monica beach as a gift to us all.

Pamela has turned to Kickstarter to help fund the completion of BRUSHSTROKES IN HOLLYWOOD and I hope all of you will join in the campaign, TYRUS WONG: BRUSHSTROKES IN HOLLYWOOD at Kickstarter.     Please support this documentary, aimed for completion by this coming summer.  Kickstarter today just chose it as one of their own picks!!!!   There are also some fun rewards for helping fund it, the funding increments in units of 8, a Chinese lucky number.

Recently I was privileged to be able to visit Tyrus' home/studio and here is a quick pic, along with one of my portraits of Tyrus and his kites, the portrait which I have happily contributed to the PR efforts for this film funding project.



 







Quiet for a while but updating again!

It was such a busy, terrific year that so much has happened but no time to update!

Five exhibitions from January until into the summer, some of it concerning the FINDING CHINATOWN project and others involved with my overall portfolio work.  See my May post on my other blog, SARA JANE BOYERS ALOUD

Of course, the most wonderful was to have my images of the centarian artist (now 102) Tyrus Wong, and his kites - one framed composition and a flip-book - included in Sonia Mak's terrific Getty Pacific Standard Time (PST) exhibition and accompanying catalogue:  'ROUND THE CLOCK: CHINESE AMERICAN ARTISTS WORKING IN LA at the Vincent Price Art Museum at East Los Angeles City College   http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/culturemonster/2012/03/pacific-standard-time-vincent-price-art-museum.html

The show was simply terrific and Tyrus' work - both his "commercial" animation and film design and his distinctive paintings - simply shone.



And now, even better news for Tyrus.  To come in following post!



In Spring, again the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs again requested and published several of my photographs of Los Angeles' downtown Chinatown in the Asian and Pacific Islander American Hertage Month Calendar & Cultural Guide.






All the while, new themes from this extensive body of work - now over 12 years - present themselves to me and I look again at the project.  Here: a light, no pun intended, but intriguing one: the color of the Chinatowns brought about so often by the choice of the lights for illumination used, in this case, fluorescence and the often naked blub: