For two decades, Masumi Hayashi used art to awaken people gently but insistently to societal ills. Her photo collages applied photography's most seductive traits -- believability and formal beauty -- to explore disturbing subjectsm including deserted Rust Belt landscapes, decaying abandoned prisons, EPA Superfund sites, and desolate ruins of the relocation camps where Japanese Americans were interned during World War II. Hayashi meant these photographs "to be appreciated for their beauty on one level yet, on another, to create irony and tension." During the final decade of her life, she began exploring a new type of subject matter, the sacred sites of Asia, which would raise her work to a spiritual, healing plane. Hayashi's choice of subject matter always arose from personal concerns. "Art is my life and when I have something to say, all that I'm interested in comes through in my art," said the artist. Even though her art took on an overtly autobiographical focus only twice... Hayashi was keenly aware that her outlook was that of a woman, a Japanese American, and a Buddhist in a largely white, male dominated land.
Hayashi expressed those tensions and that sense of difference through technique as well as choice of subject matter. Hayashi's signature medium, the panoramic photo collage, transcends the instantancity of photography. A still photograph captures one moment from one point of view. Each of her collages fragments space by combining around one hundred still photos into a single, unified picture that is both image and object, large-scale but also highly detailed.
Wherever she planted herself and her tripod became the central point to which everything in the picture was related. At the same time, she rejected the authority implicit in a single slice of space and time; her vision required a multiplicity of moments and angles. Through technique and subject matter, Hayashi's art points out that perspective is relative: that our understanding of a place depends literally and figuratively on our point of view.
- Barbara Tannenbaum