Ansel Adams: Photos of the Japanese-American Internment during WWII

Ansel Adams is primarily known for his large black and white landscapes, but in 1942 he visited the Manzanar War Relocation Center, photographing the “life and spirit” of the people living there. Manzanar was one of ten internment camps for Japanese-Americans, run by the US government, and over 11,000 Americans were incarcerated there during the war. Adams would later combine these photographs into a book, called Born Free and Equal: The Story of Loyal Japanese-Americans. The photographs below, and in the book, speak to small living spaces and standing in line for the mess hall, but also to the complexities and make-do spirit of this community which had an orphanage, a newspaper, and a hospital. In the introduction to “Born Free and Equal”, Adams summarizes his impressions:

“Out of the jostling, dusty confusion of the first bleak days in raw barracks they have modulated to a democratic internal society and a praiseworthy personal adjustment to conditions beyond their control. The huge vistas and stern realities of sun and wind and space symbolize the immensity and opportunity of America–perhaps a vital reassurance following the experiences of forced exodus.”

All of Adams’ photographs from Manzanar can be found at the Library of Congress, and the complete text of “Born Free and Equal” can be found here.

Entrance to Manzanar ansel adams

Entrance to Manzanar

Mr. & Mrs. Richard Izuno and children ansel adams

Mr. & Mrs. Richard Izuno and children

Mrs. Naguchi and two children ansel adams

Mrs. Naguchi and two children

High school recess period ansel adams

High school recess period

School children ansel adams

School children

Science lecture ansel adams

Science lecture

Children at Sunday school class ansel adams

Children at Sunday school class

Michael Yonemetsu, [i.e., Yonemitsu] x-ray technician, and Harry Sumida in x-ray room ansel adams

Michael Yonemetsu, [i.e., Yonemitsu] x-ray technician, and Harry Sumida in x-ray room

Nurse Aiko Hamaguchi, mother Frances Yokoyama, baby Fukomoto ansel adams

Nurse Aiko Hamaguchi, mother Frances Yokoyama, baby Fukomoto

Tojo Miatake [i.e., Tōyō Miyatake] Family ansel adams

Tojo Miatake [i.e., Tōyō Miyatake] Family

Orphanage (with nurse) ansel adams

Orphanage (with nurse)

Mrs. Teruko Kiyomura ansel adams

Mrs. Teruko Kiyomura

Calesthenics exercise

Calesthenics

Fumiko Hirata and Mr. Matsumoto ansel adams

Fumiko Hirata and Mr. Matsumoto

Manzanar museum (Ansel Adams exhibit)

Manzanar museum (Ansel Adams exhibit)

Choir with director Louie Frizzell ansel adams

Choir with director Louie Frizzell

Roy Takeno, editor, and group reading paper in front of office ansel adams

Roy Takeno, editor, and group reading paper in front of office

Poultry farm, Mori Nakashima ansel adams chicken

Poultry farm, Mori Nakashima

Vollyball ansel adams volleyball

Vollyball

Bridge game, Nurse Hamaguchi and friends ansel adams

Bridge game, Nurse Hamaguchi and friends

Farm, farm workers, Mt. Williamson in background ansel adams

Farm, farm workers, Mt. Williamson in background

Monument in cemetery ansel adams

Monument in cemetery

Mess line, noon ansel adams

Mess line, noon

Roy Takeno's desk ansel adams

Roy Takeno’s desk

Loading bus, leaving Manzanar for relocation ansel adams

Loading bus, leaving Manzanar for relocation

Tojo Miatake [i.e. Tōyō Miyatake] Family ansel adams

Tojo Miatake [i.e. Tōyō Miyatake] Family

Mrs. Nakamura and 2 daughters (Joyce Yuki and Louise Tami) ansel adams

Mrs. Nakamura and 2 daughters (Joyce Yuki and Louise Tami)

Mr. and Mrs. Dennis Shimizu

Mr. and Mrs. Dennis Shimizu

Butcher shop, (J.S. Yonai) ansel adams

Butcher shop, (J.S. Yonai)

Hidemi Tayenaka, wood worker ansel adams

Hidemi Tayenaka, wood worker

Richard Kobayashi, farmer with cabbages ansel adams

Richard Kobayashi, farmer with cabbages




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4 Comments on "Ansel Adams: Photos of the Japanese-American Internment during WWII"

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rocky tacujan
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These pictures from the past ,’though hard to find, were all very touching and yet bringing us joy from within.

M.B. Harati
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fine . thank you

Matthew Gore
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Would have been helpful if the author had mentioned that Manzanar is in CALIFORNIA so that I didn’t have to Google it.

That said, it’s a great collection of photos, as we’d expect from Adams. They don’t have the spontaneity that I’d expect from someone like Cartier-Bresson using a smaller format camera… they look almost like movie stills in some cases. Beautiful composition and tonality, though.

– Matthew Gore

Jen
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the pictures look peaceful, like he had no drama turmoil inside of him, like many photojournalists usually have. everything made sense to him. this also does exist, as the opposite does…

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