Photo Essay: The Manzanar War Relocation Center
In the Fall Issue of Preservation magazine, historian and author Max Page sheds a light on places that represent difficult but important parts of American history. These “sites of conscience” as they have come to be known—place-based examples of injustice—are important demonstrations of the fragility of our rights and our ability to deny the rights of others. By telling their stories, we have a chance to learn from our mistakes.
One of the places highlighted in Page’s piece is Manzanar National Historic Site in eastern California, where 10,000 Japanese Americans—viewed as a threat by the federal government—were forcibly incarcerated during World War II.
In 1943, at the invitation of his friend, the camp’s director, Ralph Merritt, Ansel Adams came to Manzanar War Relocation Center to document the camp and the people interned there. His work is now preserved by the Library of Congress. Select photographs are displayed below.
From the Library of Congress:
Adams' Manzanar work is a departure from his signature style landscape photography. Although a majority of the more than 200 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, "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 All in all, I think this Manzanar Collection is an important historical document, and I trust it can be put to good use."
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