Friday, April 20, 2012

Dorothea Lang and the Japanese Internment Camps

         Dorothea Lange was an American documentary photographer and photojournalist. She is best known for her documentation of migrant workers and farm families during the Great Depression. Because of this work, she was chosen by the United States government to document life in the Japanese internment camps. Even though she had seen displacement and poverty during the depression, she was not prepared for the alarming racism and blatant civil rights abuses she saw in the camps. She later commented, “What was horrifying was to do this thing completely on the basis of what blood may be coursing through a person’s veins, nothing else. Nothing to do with your afflictions or friendships or associations. Just blood.”
        Lange’s photos of the camps are extremely important because she documented aspects of the camp that were hidden from the public for many years.  These images provide some of the only examples of what life was really like in the camps. In 2006, 800 new images of the camps, which were confiscated by the U.S. government about 50 years ago, were released to the public. These images showed the inhumane conditions that the internees had to suffer through. People were forced to live in “horse stalls and tar-paper shacks where they endured brutal heat and bitter cold, filth, dust and open sewers.”
       The photos were alarming, not only because they exposed the atrocities committed by the United States government, but also because of their relevance to current events. Japanese people were interned during the war because of fear; they posed no threat to national security. According to Gary Y. Okihiro, the author of a book on the internment camps, “there are some disturbing parallels between the treatment of Japanese Americans in 1942 and that of Muslins and other American citizens since the attacks of 9/11.” These images should cause people to question the xenophobia that seems to characterize American society and the effect that this unprovoked discrimination can have on people’s lives. (This article contains a lot of Lange's pictures)

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