While America celebrates Victory over Japan Day on September 2, let’s not forget the suffering of about 110,000 Japanese Americans who were forced to live in internment camps.
Even at the time this policy was opposed by many Americans, including renowned photographer Ansel Adams, who in the summer of 1943 made his first visit to Manzanar War Relocation Camp in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Invited by the warden, Adams sought to document the living conditions of the camp’s inhabitants.
His photos were published in a book titled “Born Free And Equal: The Story of Loyal Japanese-Americans” in 1944, with an accompanying exhibition at MoMA.
In 1965, when he donated the images to the Library of Congress, Adams shared some thoughts on the project:
“The purpose of my work was to show how these people, suffering under a great injustice, and loss of property, businesses and professions, had overcome the sense of defeat and dispair (sic) by building for themselves a vital community in an arid (but magnificent) environment,” he said.
At the outset of World War II, the American government feared subversive actions by the Japanese American citizens and began moving them to relocation camps.
Adams' works showed the humanity of people living at the camps. Here, Ryie Yoshizawa, center, teaches a class on dressmaking.
Here, from left to right: Louise Tami Nakamura, holding the hand of Mrs. Naguchi, and Joyce Yuki Nakamura.
In many instances, Adams took portraits of the people whose daily lives he photographed, like this one of the same little girl, Joyce Yuki Nakamura.
Adams also captured the recreational time at the camp, like in this image of Dennis Shimizu lying on his bed reading.
This picture of women playing cards shows the different backgrounds and roles of the camp's inhabitants.
Adams' images capture the social order to life at the camp. Here, Manzanar resident Roy Takeno, right, sits next to the mayor.
They lived at the camp from 1942 through 1945, when the war ended and they were allowed to return home.
But the people of Manzanar, like painter C.T. Hibino, likely never forgot the life they lived there.
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