Friday, April 20, 2012

The Camps According to Dorothea Lange

After reading Kristine Kuramitsu’s article I wanted to find out more about historical records from the Japanese-American interment camps, which led me to a 2006 New York Times article The War Relocation Association closely monitored the photographs and films that documented life in the interment camps, but in 2006 a series of photographs by Dorothea Lange were uncovered in the National Archives.  While she may be best known for her documentary style photographs of the Great Depression, these 800 photos captures the emotions and lives of the internees. 
Originally hired by the WPA to document life in the camps, Langue chose to document the truth rather than to portray a happy, normal living environment that did not violate international laws or mistreat the occupants.  The government ultimately confiscated her photos and kept them buried for over fifty years.  Her photos stand in stark contrast to Ansel Adams’s photos of life in the camp at Manzanar, California that showed heroic poses and used the beautiful Sierra Mountains as a background.  The WPA consistently restricted Lange’s access to the camps, refusing to allow her to photograph wire fences, watchtowers with searchlights, armed guides, or any signs of internees resisting.  They discouraged her from talking to the very people she was hired to photograph.  Langue unflinchingly photographed hospital patients in beds outside next to the latrines, schoolchildren sitting on the floor because there were no desks or chairs, and horse stalls that housed families.  Lange also chose to emphasize the Americanness of the internees, showing a young boy reading a comic book, a boy in a baseball hat, and a United States army volunteer helping his family move in to a camp.  I began googling Dorothea Langue images and couldn’t stop.  It’s really striking to see the snapshots of life in the camps that she managed to capture. 100 of her images were published for the first time in the 2006 book, Impounded: Dorothea Lange and the Censored Images of Japanese American Interment.   

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