Introducing photographer, poet, and artist Jun Fujita. Fujita was an Issei, a term used by Japanese Americans referring to the first generation to migrate from Japan. Born on December 13, 1888, in Hiroshima prefecture, he migrated to Canada as a teenager, before finally settling in Chicago in 1909.

He manages to land a job as a photographer for the Evening Post, becoming the first Japanese-American photojournalist, a profession in its infancy, but one Fujita established himself as a somewhat accidental master of. He is behind some of Chicago’s most iconic photographs, even though many of his contributions are thought to be marked anonymous.

After WW1 ended, many of the 380,000 African Americans who served during WW1 returned believing that they would be returning to see the beginning of the end to racial discrimination. Instead, their status as veterans made them targets for white aggression and violence and their patriotism was viewed as a threat. 

The tragic murder of 17-year-old Eugene Williams saw the city ignite in a race riot that would go down in history as one of the country’s bloodiest. It was during a brutal summer heatwave and became known as the Red Summer Race Riots. Fujita was in the middle of it all with his camera:

The S.S. Eastland Disaster, also known as Chicago’s Titanic, was another tragedy Fujita documented a few years prior. On the morning of July 24, 1915, over 2500 passengers and crew boarded the Eastland, but within a few hours, nearly 900 of them would be dead although the ship never left the quay.

On February 14, 1929, the brutality of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre shocked the world. As a result of the prohibition set into law by the passing of the 18th amendment increased gang warfare in Chicago’s North Side. On Valentines Day 1929, two men associated with George “Bugs” Moran were executed by two men dressed as policemen. Although never officially linked to Capone, Moran claimed that ‘only Capone kills like that’. Fujita was the first man on the scene with his camera. Apparently, Al Capone, who he photographed shown below, stopped his car saying ‘Hey Jun, I hear you are good with a knife, join my Gang and we will call you Chop Stix’. Jun replied ‘I am better with a camera’.

Throughout his photography and poetry, Fujita put forward a vision of what being an American could mean. He achieved unprecedented success in his profession despite it being at a time of deep hostility and prejudice.

Images sourced from Chicago History Museum and Chicago History Society. Further reading via Eij.org, WWTW, Eastlanddisaster.com, Fujitabehindthecamera.