Film and Photography Preserve Heartbreaking History of Topaz

Department of Design

Photography student Alyssa Lyman shares lessons learned at Topaz

Working as the photographer for the College of Fine Arts and Communications has given me the unique opportunity to photograph some pretty neat things, but one of my favorite experiences was last February when I accompanied BYU film students on a field trip to the Topaz War Relocation Site.

On a cold Saturday morning, we hopped in the BYU vans and drove the 90 miles down to Delta, a small town in southern Utah where over 9,000 Japanese Americans were housed from 1942-1945 during World War II. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt signed an executive order which forced more than 120,000 Japanese Americans out of their homes and into relocation camps.

None of these Americans were ever convicted or charged with any crime.

This site is of particular interest to film students because one prisoner, California businessman Dave Tatsuno, used a smuggled camera to document camp life while confined there. His film later became the second amateur documentary to be selected for the National Film Registry and was deemed “culturally significant” by the Library of Congress. Tatsuno’s film and what remains of the Topaz Camp stand as a reminder of the injustice that happens when people act out of prejudice and fear.