Feb 28, 2012

Ansel Adams Captures Life on a Japanese Internment Camp



Manzanar (which means ‘apple orchard’ in Spanish), is the site of one of ten camps where over 110,000 Japanese Americans were imprisoned during World War II. Located at the foot of the Sierra Nevada in California’s Owens Valley between the towns of Lone Pine to the south and Independence to the north, it is approximately 230 miles (370 km) northeast of Los Angeles.

Since the last prisoners left in 1945, former prisoners and others have worked to protect Manzanar and to establish it as a National Historic Site to preserve and interpret the site for current and future generations. [Source: Wikipedia]

In 1943, Ansel Adams (1902-1984), America’s most well-known photographer, documented the Manzanar War Relocation Center in California and the Japanese-Americans interned there during World War II.

Adams’s Manzanar work is a departure from his signature style landscape photography. Although a majority of the 244 photographs are portraits, the images also include views of daily life, agricultural scenes, and sports and leisure activities. When offering the collection to the Library in 1965, Adams said in a letter [Source: Library of Congress],

“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vital community in an arid (but magnificent) environment….All in all, I think this Manzanar Collection is an important historical document, and I trust it can be put to good use.”

Below you will find a curated selection of thirty-five photographs through the lens of a photography master. Visit the Library of Congress to see the entire collection of over 244 stunning images.



1. Manzanar street scene, spring, Manzanar – 1943




2. Farm, farm workers, Mt. Williamson in background – 1943




3. Tom Kobayashi, landscape, south fields, Manzanar – 1943




4. Electric line crew at work in Manzanar – 1943




5. Mrs. Ryie Yoshizawa, teacher, fashion designing class – 1943


Mrs. Ryie Yoshizawa and class of women students at table with fabric and dressmaking equipment. Students are: Satoko Oka, Chizuko Karnii, Takako Nakanishi, Kikiyo Yamasuchi, Masako Kimochita, Mitsugo Fugi, Mie Mio, Chiye Kawase, and Miyeko Hoshozike



6. C.T. Hibino, artist, Manzanar – 1943




7. Akio Matsumoto, commercial artist – 1943




8. Bert K. Miura, pattern making, Manzanar – 1943




9. In biology class, high school, Manzanar – 1943




10. Roy Takeno’s desk, Manzanar – 1943




11. Frank Hirosama in laboratory, Manzanar – 1943




12. Masao Nakazawa, chemistry teacher, Manzanar – 1943




13. Yonehisa Yamagami, electrician, Manzanar – 1922




14. Corporal Jimmie Shohara, Manzanar – 1943


Corporal Jimmie Shohara, bust portrait, facing front. His two ribbons are for good behavior pre-Pearl Harbor and Rifle and Pistol Citations. He visited his parents who were confined at Manzanar (but who were American citizens by birth).



15. Richard Kobayashi, farmer with cabbages, Manzanar – 1943




16. Mrs. Dennis Shimizu, Manzanar – 1943




Japanese Interment and the Manzanar Relocation Center


After the December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States Government swiftly moved to begin solving the “Japanese Problem” on the West Coast of the United States. In the evening hours of that same day, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) arrested selected “enemy” aliens, including 2,192 who were of Japanese descent. The California government pressed for action by the national government, as many citizens were alarmed about potential activities by people of Japanese descent.

On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which authorized the Secretary of War to designate military commanders to prescribe military areas and to exclude “any or all persons” from such areas. The order also authorized the construction of what would later be called “relocation centers” by the War Relocation Authority (WRA) to house those who were to be excluded.

This order resulted in the forced relocation of over 120,000 Japanese Americans, two-thirds of whom were native-born American citizens. The rest had been prevented from becoming citizens by federal law. Over 110,000 were imprisoned in the ten concentration camps located far inland and away from the coast. Manzanar was the first of the ten concentration camps to be established.

The first Japanese American prisoners to arrive at Manzanar were volunteers who helped build the camp. By mid–April up to 1,000 Japanese Americans were arriving daily, and by July the population of the camp neared 10,000. Over 90% of the prisoners were from the Los Angeles area, with the rest coming from Stockton, California; and Bainbridge Island, Washington. Many were farmers and fishermen. Manzanar held 10,046 prisoners at its peak, and a total of 11,070 people were imprisoned there.

The camp site was situated on 6,200 acres (2,500 ha) at Manzanar, leased from the City of Los Angeles, with the developed portion covering approximately 540 acres (220 ha). The residential area was about one square mile (2.6 km2), and consisted of 36 blocks of hastily constructed, 20-foot (6.1 m) by 100-foot (30 m) tarpaper barracks, with each prisoner family living in a single 20-foot (6.1 m) by 25-foot (7.6 m) “apartment” in the barracks. These apartments consisted of partitions with no ceilings, eliminating any chance of privacy. Lack of privacy was a major problem for the prisoners, especially since the camp had communal men’s and women’s latrines.

Most prisoners were employed at Manzanar to keep the camp running. Unskilled workers earned US$8 per month ($113.8 per month as of 2012), semi-skilled workers earned $12 per month ($171 per month as of 2012), skilled workers made $16 per month ($228 per month as of 2012), and professionals earned $19 per month ($270 per month as of 2012). In addition, all prisoners received $3.60 per month ($51 per month as of 2012) as a clothing allowance.

On November 21, 1945, the WRA closed Manzanar, the sixth camp to be closed. Although the prisoners had been brought to the Owens Valley by the United States Government, they had to leave the camp and travel to their next destinations on their own. The WRA gave each person $25 ($323 today), one-way train or bus fare, and meals to those who had less than $600 ($7,746 today). While many left the camp voluntarily, a significant number refused to leave because they had no place to go after having lost everything when they were forcibly uprooted and removed from their homes. [Source: Wikipedia]




17. Baseball game, Manzanar – 1943


Japanese Americans observe an amateur baseball game in progress; one-story buildings and mountains in the background.



18. Football practice, Manzanar – 1943




19. Volleyball Game, Manzanar – 1943




20. Japanese-style garden with pool, Pleasure Park, Manzanar – 1943




21. Cattle in south farm, Manzanar – 1943




22. Monument in cemetery, Manzanar – 1943


Marble monument with inscription that reads, “Monument for the Pacification of Spirits,” with mountains in the background, including Mt. Williamson.



23. Roy Takeno, editor, and group reading paper in front of office – 1943


Roy Takeno (far left), with Yuichi Hirata and Nabou Samamura, standing in front of the Office of Reports Free Press. Two men are reading the Los Angeles Times newspaper.



24. Two young men in co-op goods store, Manzanar – 1943




25. Nurse Aiko Hamaguchi, Harry Sumida and Michael Yonemetsu in hosposital




26. Nurse Aiko Hamaguchi, patient Tom Kano, Manzanar – 1943




27. Bridge game, Nurse Hamaguchi and friends, Manzanar – 1943




28. Roy Takeno and Mayor, town hall meeting, Manzanar – 1943




29. Tatsuo Miyake (student of divinity), Manzanar – 1943




30. Calesthenics, Manzanar – 1943




31. Tom Kobayashi, Landscape, Manzanar – 1943




32. Boys Huddles Around a Book, Manzanar – 1943




33. Mr. Matsumoto with a group of children, Manzanar – 1943




34. School children, Manzanar – 1943




35. Packing up, Manzanar – 1943


Man stands on top of bus loading luggage while a group of people gather to say farewell, guardhouse in the background.





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