Evacuee orphans from San Francisco pose for a photo in Manzanar

photo by: Dorothea Lange/WRA/National Archives 538187

March 17, 2016

Photo Essay: Manzanar Relocation Center through Dorothea Lange's Lens

  • By: Katharine Keane
  • Photography: Dorothea Lange

Best known for her iconic Depression-era image Migrant Mother, photographer Dorothea Lange—on assignment for the War Relocation Authority (WRA)—spent months chronicling the forced removal and internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

The majority of Lange’s photos did not conform to the WRA’s aim of showing a positive side of the incarceration, and for this reason many of her hundreds of images were impounded. Unfortunately, the WRA retained the right to caption images submitted by their photographers, often altering the truth—a manipulation that affected Lange after she completed her assignment.

Photographer sits with her camera on top of a truck

photo by: LC-USF34-002392-E

Dorothea Lange with her camera.

In a letter to her friend and colleague Ansel Adams (who also photographed life at Manzanar), Lange wrote, “I fear the intolerance and prejudice is constantly growing. We have a disease. It’s Jap-baiting and hatred. You have a job on your hands to do to make a dent in it—but I don’t know a more challenging nor more important one. I went through an experience I’ll never forget when I was working on it and learned a lot, even if I accomplished nothing.”

Scroll down for a glimpse of what Lange saw during her time at Manzanar Relocation Center.

Pre-school children on their way to their barracks from morning class.

photo by: Dorothea Lange/WRA/National Archives 537955

Young students returning to their barracks from classes.

Evacuee boy reading Funnies

photo by: Dorothea Lange/WRA/National Archives 538076

A young boy reads the funnies.

“I went through an experience I’ll never forget when I was working on it and learned a lot, even if I accomplished nothing.”

Dorothea Lange

Japanese-American History Photo Essay: The Manzanar War Relocation Center

In 1943, at the invitation of his friend, camp director Ralph Merritt, Ansel Adams came to Manzanar War Relocation Center to document the camp and the people interned there.

Katharine Keane is an editorial assistant at Preservation Magazine. She enjoys getting lost in new cities, reading the plaques at museums, and discovering the next great restaurant.

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