photo by: Library of Congress

October 12, 2015

Photo Essay: The Manzanar War Relocation Center

  • By: David Weible
  • Photography: Ansel Adams

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 relocated and interned 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's 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.

Manzanar Portrait 2

photo by: Library of Congress

Hidemi Tayenaka.

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community in an arid (but magnificent) environment....All in all, I think this Manzanar Collection is an important historical document, and I trust it can be put to good use."

Manzanar Baseball Game

photo by: Library of Congress

Baseball game.

Manzanar Portrait 6

photo by: Library of Congress

Sumiko Shigematsu, foreman of power machines.

Manzanar Portrait 5

photo by: Library of Congress

Yonehisa Yamagami, electrician.

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Manzanar Hospital

photo by: Library of Congress

Nurse Aiko Hamaguchi, patient Tom Kano.

Manzanar Portrait 3

photo by: Library of Congress

Private Kato.

Manzanar Portrait 4

photo by: Library of Congress

Japanese-American U.S. Naval cadet nurse, Kay Fukuda.

Manzanar Loading Bus

photo by: Library of Congress

Loading bus, leaving Manzanar War Relocation Center.

photo by: Library of Congress

Louise Tami Nakamura.

photo by: Library of Congress

Mitsu Nakai and baby.

Manzanar Farm Workers

photo by: Library of Congress

Farm, farm workers, Mt. Williamson in background.

David Weible is the content specialist at the National Trust, previously with Preservation and Outside magazines. His interest in historic preservation was inspired by the ‘20s-era architecture, streetcar neighborhoods, and bars of his hometown of Cleveland.

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