Ansel Adams’ Rare Photos of Everyday Life in a Japanese Internment Camp

Manzanar from Guard Tower, 1943

Manzanar from Guard Tower, 1943

September 15, 2015 / by JORDAN G. TEICHER –

Ansel Adams was already world-famous for his groundbreaking black-and-white photographs of the American West when he was invited by his friend Ralph Merritt to document the Manzanar War Relocation Center, a Japanese internment camp, where Merritt was director. It was a risky career move for a man so thoroughly established as a landscape photographer, but Adams was compelled to witness life there and make a record of it. Fifty of his photographs will be on display in the Photographic Traveling Exhibitions show, “Manzanar: The Wartime Photographs of Ansel Adams,” which is at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles from Oct. 8 to Feb. 21.

During World War II, more than 110,000 Japanese people and Japanese-born Americans were detained in 10 camps along the West Coast. More than 11,000 people, the majority of whom were American citizens from the Los Angeles area, were detained at California’s Manzanar between 1942 and 1945. Adams made a series of trips there between 1943 and 1944.

“He felt this was an injustice, and he actually ended up conducting interviews with people in the camp, asking people about their experiences, how they felt prior to incarceration, whether they’d experienced racial prejudice before the war. He tried to capture not only what was happening in the camps visually, but he wanted to know who these people were. He wanted to emphasize their loyalty as American citizens,” said Linde B. Lehtinen, Skirball’s assistant curator…read more

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Last Updated on December 8, 2020