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Ansel-Adams-Manzanar-Detainment-Camp-13 News & Insight

Ansel Adams Captures Japanese Americans Locked Up In Internment Camps

By Michelle Bird on May 6th 2014


In 1942, as the United States was still dealing with the recent shock of Pearl Harbor– instigating the beginning of WWII– thousands of Japanese Americans were forced by the U.S. Government to leave their homes, and “live” in detainment camps located in remote areas, away from the society they had known all their lives. Two thirds of these detainees were U.S. Citizens.

In the fall of the following year, photographer Ansel Adams set out to document the day-to-day existence these folks had to endure while held in the Manzanar War Relocation Center, in California’s Owens Valley.

Adams was outraged that American citizens had been displaced from their lives of normalcy, and wanted to capture on film how dehumanizing these circumstances were. “Nothing is more permanent about Manzanar than the dust which has lodged in its tar-papered barracks, except the indelible impression incised on the lives of thousands of its inhabitants,” Adams wrote.


Something not noted often is the mention of the highly decorated 442nd regiment of the American Army, composed entirely of Japanese-Americans, who were one of the best Infantry Regiments of WWII, earning the nickname “The Purple Heart Regiment.” While these men gave their loyalty, risked their lives and not once turned their backs on their country, their country turned its back on them by imprisoning their fathers and mothers, wives, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters.

[REWIND: Incredible Video By British Pathe Uncovers The First Hundred Years Of Photography]

The photographs of Manzanar were exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in 1944, and published in a book titled: “Born Free And Equal: The Story of Loyal Japanese-Americans.”

Adams wrote on the preface, “this book in no way attempts a sociological analysis of the people and their problem. It is addressed to the average American citizen, and is conceived on a human, emotional basis, accenting the realities of the individual and his environment rather than considering the loyal Japanese-Americans as an abstract, amorphous, minority group… Throughout this book I want the reader to feel he has been with me in Manzanar, has met some of the people, and has known the mood of the Center and its environment — thereby drawing his own conclusions — rather than impose upon him any doctrine or advocate any sociological action.


Some forty years later, in 1988 the U.S. finally apologized for what they put these folks through, admitting that the operation was “motivated largely by racial prejudice, wartime hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”

As photographers, we have the power to give voice to whatever we capture through our lens, after all a picture is worth a thousand words.









Ansel-Adams-Manzanar-Detainment-Camp-13Photos by Ansel Adams via Library of Congress

[via] Huffington Post

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Michelle Bird is a Southern California based freelance photographer and writer, with a strong focus on music, editorial and portrait photography. She is the founder and creative force behind the music+culture online blog Black Vinyl Magazine, and can often be found in the photo-pit shooting the latest concerts in town. She has a strong passion for art, exploring, vintage finds and most of all animals. Connect with her through Email,
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Q&A Discussions

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  1. David Faulkner

    I saw the Ansel Adams exhibition in London a year or two ago. It was all the classic Adams images you would expect – Yosemite, etc. There was nothing in that collection to prepare me for these vastly different photos. Thank you for this.

    Just one quibble, which is not about the photography: Pearl Harbour did not instigate the beginning of World War II: it instigated the USA’s entry into WW2. Europe had been at war for over two years already.

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  2. Vince Arredondo

    Great Images!

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  3. Gonzalo

    Very sad story and very powerful images!

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