Ansel Adams/ Manzanar Photographs.

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Ansel Adams/ Loading bus, leaving Manzanar for relocation.

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Ansel Adams/ Manzanar from Guard Tower, view west (Sierra Nevada in background.)

I never liked Ansel Adams landscape photography. His interpretations are too spectacular for my taste.

Yesterday I stumbled over his photographs he made from the relocation center for American citizens of Japanese origin during World War II. I was very surprised.
At least the raw material of his “Manzanar Project” is different from everything I have known from him. The images are more casual; they are less perfect, more “contemporary”.

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Ansel Adams/ Nurse Aiko Hamaguchi

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Ansel Adams/ Mrs. Kay Kageyama

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Ansel Adams/ Teruko Kiyomura, (Bookkeeper)

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Ansel Adams/ Henry Hanawa, mechanic, Manzanar Relocation Center, California.

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Ansel Adams/ Bert K. Miura, clothing designer

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Ansel Adams/ Corporal Jimmie Shohara, Manzanar Relocation Center, Calif.

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Ansel Adams/ Yonehisa Yamagami, electrician, Manzanar Relocation Center.

“Since the end of World War II, there has been debate over the terminology used to refer to Manzanar and the other camps in which Americans of Japanese ancestry and their immigrant parents were imprisoned by the United States Government during the war. Manzanar has been referred to as a “War Relocation Center,” “relocation camp,” “relocation center,” “internment camp,” and “concentration camp,” and the controversy over which term is the most accurate and appropriate continues to the present day.

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Ansel Adams/ Mrs. Teruko Kiyomura.

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Ansel Adams/ Bridge game, Nurse Aiko Hamaguchi, Nurse Chiye Yamanaki, Miss Catherine Yamaguchi, Miss Kazoko Nagahama, Manzanar Relocation Center, California

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Ansel Adams/ Roy Takeno, editor, and group reading paper in front of office.

In 1998, use of “concentration camp” gained greater credibility prior to the opening of an exhibit about the American camps at Ellis Island. Initially, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and the National Park Service, which manages Ellis Island, objected to the use of the term in the exhibit. However, during a subsequent meeting held at the offices of the AJC in New York City, leaders representing Japanese Americans and Jewish Americans reached an understanding about the use of the term. After the meeting, the Japanese American National Museum and the AJC issued a joint statement (which was included in the exhibit) that read in part:


“A concentration camp is a place where people are imprisoned not because of any crimes they have committed, but simply because of who they are. Although many groups have been singled out for such persecution throughout history, the term ‘concentration camp’ was first used at the turn of the century in the Spanish American and Boer Wars. During World War II, America’s concentration camps were clearly distinguishable from Nazi Germany’s. Nazi camps were places of torture, barbarous medical experiments and summary executions; some were extermination centers with gas chambers. Six million Jews were slaughtered in the Holocaust. Many others, including Gypsies, Poles, homosexuals and political dissidents were also victims of the Nazi concentration camps. In recent years, concentration camps have existed in the former Soviet Union, Cambodia and Bosnia. Despite differences, all had one thing in common: the people in power removed a minority group from the general population and the rest of society let it happen.”


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Ansel Adams/ Burning leaves, autumn dawn.

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Ansel Adams/ Pictures and mementoes on phonograph top: Yonemitsu home.

The Owens Valley Reception Center was transferred to the WRA on June 1, 1942, and officially became the “Manzanar War Relocation Center.” The first Japanese American prisoners to arrive at Manzanar were volunteers who helped build the camp. By mid–April up to 1,000 Japanese Americans were arriving daily, and by July the population of the camp neared 10,000. Over 90% of the prisoners were from the Los Angeles area, with the rest coming from Stockton, California, and Bainbridge Island, Washington. Manzanar held 10,046 prisoners at its peak, and a total of 11,070 people were imprisoned there.

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Ansel Adams/ Line crew at work in Manzanar.

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Ansel Adams/ School children, Manzanar Relocation Center, California.

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Ansel Adams/ People leaving Buddhist church, winter II.

The weather at Manzanar had a tremendous impact on the prisoners, few of whom were accustomed to the extremes of the area’s climate. The Owens Valley lies at an elevation of about 4,000 feet (1,200 m). Summers on the desert floor of the Owens Valley are generally hot, with temperatures exceeding 100 °F (38 °C) not uncommon. Winters bring occasional snowfall and daytime temperatures that often drop into the 40 °F (4 °C) range. At night, temperatures are generally 30–40 °F (16 to 22 °C) lower than the daytime highs, and high winds are common day or night. The area’s mean annual precipitation is barely five inches (12.7 cm). The ever-present dust was a continual problem due to the frequent high winds, so much so that prisoners usually woke up in the morning covered from head to toe with a fine layer of dust, and barracks constantly had to be swept.

“In the summer, the heat was unbearable,” said former Manzanar prisoner Ralph Lazo (see Notable Manzanar prisoners section, below). “In the winter, the sparsely rationed oil didn’t adequately heat the tar paper covered pine barracks with the knotholes in the floor. The wind would blow so hard, it would toss rocks around.”

The camp site was situated on 6,200 acres (2,500 ha) at Manzanar, leased from the City of Los Angeles, with the developed portion covering approximately 540 acres (220 ha). The residential area was about one square mile (2.6 km²), and consisted of 36 blocks of hastily constructed, 20-foot (6.1 m) by 100-foot (30 m) tarpaper barracks, with each prisoner family living in a single 20-foot (6.1 m) by 25-foot (7.6 m) “apartment” in the barracks. These apartments consisted of partitions with no ceilings, eliminating any chance of privacy. To be sure, privacy was a major problem for the prisoners, especially since the camp had communal men’s and women’s latrines.

“…One of the hardest things to endure was the communal latrines, with no partitions; and showers with no stalls,” said former Manzanar prisoner Rosie Kakuuchi.

Each residential block also had a communal mess hall, a laundry room, a recreation hall, an ironing room, and a heating oil storage tank, although Block 33 lacked a recreation hall. In addition to the residential blocks, Manzanar had 34 additional blocks that had staff housing, camp administration offices, two warehouses, a garage, a camp hospital, and 24 firebreaks. The camp also had sentry posts at the main entrance, school facilities, a high school auditorium, staff housing, chicken and hog farms, churches, a cemetery, a post office, a cooperative store, other shops, a camp newspaper, and other necessary amenities that one would expect to find in most American cities. Manzanar also had a camouflage net factory, an experimental plantation for producing natural rubber from the Guayule plant, and an orphanage called Children’s Village, which housed 101 Japanese American orphans. The camp perimeter had eight watchtowers manned by armed Military Police, and it was enclosed by five-strand barbed wire.

After being uprooted from their homes and communities, the prisoners found themselves having to endure primitive, sub-standard conditions, lack of privacy, and having to wait in one line after another for meals, at latrines, and at the laundry room. Each camp was intended to be self-sufficient, and Manzanar was no exception. Cooperatives operated various services, such as the camp newspaper, beauty and barber shops, shoe repair, and more. In addition, prisoners raised chickens, hogs, and vegetables, and cultivated the existing orchards for fruit. Prisoners even made their own soy sauce and tofu.

Most prisoners were employed at Manzanar to keep the camp running. Unskilled workers earned US$8 per month, semi-skilled workers earned $12 per month, skilled workers made $16 per month, and professionals earned $19 per month. In addition, all prisoners received $3.60 per month as a clothing allowance.”

Source: Wikipedia

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After reading this entry once again I realize that photographs, as concrete as they seem to be, never give us real information. They are merely triggering out fantasies and serve as a backdrop for them.

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Ansel Adams/ Richard Kobayashi, farmer with cabbages.




3 thoughts on “Ansel Adams/ Manzanar Photographs.

  1. Pingback: guayule plant

  2. I wrote a book for kids calle “Great American Artists for Kids”, and for Ansel Adams, focused on Manzanar photos instead of his nature photos. Children are fascinated with the part of history, and I’m glad they are. I grew up on Bainbridge Island, my sister in law was born in a concentration camp where her mother died at childbirth, [and so forth and so on]. Our Island has yet to fully recover, but has come a very long way. Read Mary Woodward’s book, “In Defense of Our Neighbors” to get all the truth.

    • Though your comment contains some self advertisement, in fact you are advertising the material you are trying to sell on your homepage, at least you are not advertising for viagra, or loans, or all that stuff, generally the comments I receive here are all about.

      I would have been interested in hearing about the “[and so forth and so on]”. Anyway…I don´t think that anybody will ever get “all the truth.”

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