My mother owned the Re-New Cleaners on Maynard Avenue South next to the Hong Kong Restaurant. Ron Chew worked there with his father. This was back in the mid-1970s.
Ron and I attended the University of Washington’s School of Communications together before he was recruited to be the editor of the International Examiner. On distribution days, Ron would call his volunteers to help deliver newspapers. I was one of those volunteers.
By the early 1980s, I was taking photo assignments for the paper. I photographed Chinatown International District (CID) residents, business owners, and political meetings, all on black and white film, which I processed myself.
By the 1990s I had continued to improve my skills as a photojournalist. I started taking memorable photographs that left an impression on readers. I started to learn how to write. My very first story was about a building fire on King Street, near 12th Avenue, in which I reported that Donnie Chin from the International District Emergency Center (IDEC) was first to arrive on scene.
When I look at old issues of the IE, I realize how prolific I became with my cover stories. I liked feature stories, which combined my writing and photography. Back then, the newspaper would clear out the two middle pages for my photo essays and stories.
The first photograph that had special meaning was taken in Canton Alley in 1976. Herman, the son of a CID grocer, was staring at me from behind a window. Back then, a lot of Chinatown kids would be drawn to #5 Canton Alley and the Chong Wa playfield. #5 Canton Alley is the birthplace of Donnie Chin’s International District Emergency Center (IDEC.)
Donnie took in Chinatown youth and tried to teach them community service. Donnie was shot to death in 2015.
IDEC volunteers, some of them kids who once played in the alley, still continue first aid stations at CID community events.
In 1991, I was assigned to go to McChord Field, a U.S. Air Force base south of Tacoma, to capture some Asian soldiers returning from the Persian Gulf War. This was the war in which Iraq invaded Kuwait.
It had been raining all morning. All of a sudden, the rain stopped and the sun came out. A Boeing 747 landed, with the pilot waving an American flag out his window.
Soldiers came down the ramp of the plane. Family members rushed the field to find their loved ones. In the middle of this frenzy, I spotted Andy Cheng surrounded by his family. In the image, Andy looks dazed, caught in the emotion of the moment. His M-16 rifle still on his shoulder while a family member waved a small American flag.
A few weeks later, a family member contacted me and ordered a poster size reproduction of the image. I titled it “Homecoming.”
“Blue Funnel Line,” bottom left, was taken in 1991. This is the Yick Fung Company at 705 South King Street, owned by Jimmy and Howard Mar.
This is the view from the store’s mezzanine, with rows of bottled goods lined up on the shelf. When I was young, Yick Fung was the place to find preserved plums. I preferred a brand with a wrapper that featured some Chinese watching as an airplane passes overhead.
“Blue Funnel Line” is painted on the window. This was a shipping company that brought many early Chinese immigrants to Seattle. There were bunk beds in the mezzanine to accommodate new arrivals.
While composing the photograph, a man walked up. He put his hands in his pocket, then crossed his legs. I pressed the shutter at that moment.
“Angels,” Vancouver B.C., Chinatown. I went up for their Chinese New Year Parade in January 2016. This was three months after my wife Jan Ito died from colon cancer. Five months after my best friend Donnie Chin was killed, ending almost 50 years of serving the community as a first responder.
It was raining real hard in Vancouver that day. My cameras got wet. I got soaked. I saw these dancers walking toward their starting parade positions. I followed them with my camera while keeping up with their pace. I panned the camera with their movement, used a slow shutter speed and hoped one of my exposures would turn out well.
A photograph like this is part of my evolution from journalist to artist. My time at the IE was the foundation for everything I do now as a visual artist.
“You just have to live, and life will give you pictures,” said Henri Cartier-Bresson.