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by Charlie Aldinger, Honolulu Academy of Arts

In 1943-44, the celebrated American landscape photographer Ansel Adams made a number of trips to photograph the Japanese Americans incarcerated at the Manzanar Relocation Center in Inyo County, Calif., east of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Many of the resulting photographs were exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in November 1944, and published in Adam’s book Born Free and Equal (U.S. Camera, 1944). They remain among the best photographic records of the camp.

Ansel Adams at Manzanar is organized by the Honolulu Academy of Arts and guest curated by Anne Hammond, a noted scholar of Adam’s work. The exhibition features approximately 50 prints by Adams that will be on loan from the Center for Creative Photography, Tucson, Ariz., and the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., as well as one print drawn from the academy’s own holdings. Hammond, who was also the featured guest curator for Ansel Adams in Hawai‘i, a popular exhibition of Adam’s photography of the islands shot during his visits here between 1948 and 1958, lectured Sept. 10 in the Academy’s Doris Duke Theatre. Her talk, entitiled, Ansel Adams in Manzanar, included a slide presentation and described how Adams, best known for his landscape images, made more than 200 photographs in 1943 and 1944 of the Japanese Americans interned at Manzanar. He exhibited them both at Manzanar and at the Museum of Modern Art, in New York, and published them in Born Free and Equal (1944), in an effort to help the reintegration of Japanese Americans into American communities.

Adam’s presentation of the inhabitants of Manzanar had two main emphases: the full-face portrait, and the portrayal of the camp as community. While the photographs of Manzanar, taken by documentary photographer Dorothea Lange, are well known for their portrayal of the Japanese Americans as victims of an injustice, Adams offered them as survivors. His photographs of everyday activities of the self-sustaining, socially cohesive population of Manzanar were intended to reflect the traditional values of the American small town, to emphasize the internees American citizenship, and to make it easier for his non-Japanese audience to relate to them as ordinary Americans. Peaceful reintegration of the Japanese-American population into American communities seems to have been his prime motivation.

Although mostly comprised of portraits and documentary groups, Adams photographs during this project also included landscapes depicting the high desert valley of Manzanar (called Apple Orchard by the Spanish conquistadors), as a paradise lost through the diversion of its water supply, decades before, to the city of Los Angeles. Here his conservationist commitment intersected with his social ideals as he showed the agricultural expertise of the Japanese farming community bringing life back to the land. Several of Adam’s/mountain/desert landscapes of the area included in the show establish the link between these demonstrated social concerns and the spiritual aspect of his photography.

The Manzanar Relocation Center, established by the Owens Valley Reception Center, was first run by the U. S. Army’s Wartime Civilian Control Administration (WCCA). It later became the first relocation center to be operated by the War Relocation Authority (WRA). The center was located in the former farm and orchard community of Manzanar, which was founded in 1910.

In March of 1942, the Relocation Center was built by Los Angeles contractor Griffith and Company in only six weeks, with workers enduring10-hour days, seven days a week.

On March 21, 1942, the first 82 Japanese Americans made the 220-mile trip by bus from Los Angeles. By mid-April, 1,000 Japanese Americans were arriving at Manzanar everyday, and by July, Manzanar had a population of nearly 10,000.

More than 90 percent of the evacuees were from the Los Angeles area; others came from Stockton, Calif. and Bainbridge Island, Wash.

The residents worked in agriculture inside and outside the camp, and in a factory--the only factory of its kind in any of the camps--that built camouflage nets. Manzanar also had a golf course, chicken pens, and a hog farm.

Manzanar became a National Historic Landmark in 1985 and is among the best preserved of the Japanese internment camps of the era. The last internee left Manzanar on November 25, 1945. The facility was closed and all of its buildings, except for the camp auditorium, were torn down or sold and moved. The camp is 50 miles south of Bishop, and nine miles north of the small community of Lone Pine, Calif., on U.S. Highway 395. Visitors can drive through the camp on well-defined but crumbling roads. Some internee-constructed features remain, including pond and garden complexes, extensive rock work and walls, and an impressive monument at the cemetery.

The academy will publish a companion exhibition booklet, including an essay by Dr. Hammond with several illustrations. The booklet will be available in the gallery. Courtney Brebbia, curatorial assistant of the Western Art Department, is coordinating the project.Call the academy at (808) 532-8700.


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