While America celebrates Victory over Japan Day on September 2, let’s not forget the suffering of about 110,000 Japanese Americans who were forced to live in internment camps.
Even at the time, this policy was opposed by many Americans, including renowned photographer Ansel Adams, who in the summer of 1943 made his first visit to Manzanar War Relocation Camp in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Invited by the warden, Adams sought to document the living conditions of the camp’s inhabitants.
His photos were published in a book titled “Born Free And Equal: The Story of Loyal Japanese-Americans” in 1944, with an accompanying exhibition at MoMA.
In 1965, when he donated the images to the Library of Congress, Adams shared some thoughts on the project:
“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,” he said.
At the outset of World War II, the American government feared subversive actions by Japanese American citizens and began moving them to relocation camps.
Manzanar was one of 10 sites where about 110,000 Japanese Americans were forced to live.
It was an abandoned agricultural settlement that was repurposed as a relocation center.
10,000 people would be housed at Manzanar.
Adams’ works showed the humanity of people living at the camps.
Here, Ryie Yoshizawa, center, teaches a class on dressmaking.
Here, from left to right: Louise Tami Nakamura, holding the hand of Mrs. Naguchi, and Joyce Yuki Nakamura.
In many instances, Adams took portraits of the people whose daily lives he photographed, like this one of the same little girl, Joyce Yuki Nakamura.
This one is labeled only in the collection as “Mrs. Kay Kageyama.”
Richard Kobayashi was a farmer.
Images of the fields at Manzanar are beautiful.
There’s a sense of community in the midst of hardship.
Here, Tsutomu Fuhunago lifts a produce crate.
Here, a mechanic repairs a broken down tractor while the driver looks on.
The camp was largely self-sufficient, keeping livestock too.
Here, Mori Nakashima scatters chicken feed in front of a chicken coop.
Adams also captured the recreational time at the camp, like in this image of Dennis Shimizu lying on his bed reading.
Or these women playing volleyball.
Here, a group of girls perform morning calisthenics.
Men play American football on a dusty field.
This picture of women playing cards shows the different backgrounds and roles of the camp’s inhabitants.
They were nurses, like Catherine Natsuko Yamaguchi.
Mechanics, like Henry Hanawa.
Sunday school teachers, like May Ichide.
Photographers, like Toyo Miyatake.
Soldiers, like Corporal Jimmy Shohara.
It’s remarkable to think that people could serve in the military and still be interned.
But it was apparently a common occurrence.
For some, it had been the only life they ever knew.
The inscription reads “Monument for the Pacification of Spirits.”