April 25, 1942—San Francisco, California. Residents of Japanese ancestry appear for registration prior to evacuation. Evacuees will be housed in War Relocation Authority centers for the duration. [Anchor Editions caption —Ed.] Photo by Dorothea Lange.
One of the many joys of photography is the intermittent but regular rediscovery of historic photographers, bodies of work, or (perhaps to a lesser extent) previously unknown masterpieces. Sometimes these discoveries even include unknown or little-known work by indisputably great photographers of the first rank.
Published on the Internet back on National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, December 7th, Tim Chambers of Anchor Editions created a fine photo essay of Dorothea Lange's photographs of the internment of U.S. citizens of Japanese ancestry following Pearl Harbor. The photographs were originally impounded by the U.S. Army as being unfavorable to the war effort, quietly hidden away at the National Archives. They didn't fully come to light until W.W. Norton & Company published Impounded: Dorothea Lange and the Censored Images of Japanese American Internment, edited by Linda Gordon and Gary Y. Okihiro, in 2006.
Regardless of your political feelings about events then or now, the photo essay makes it plain why the Army thought the pictures would create sympathy for those affected by the relocation and internment. If you read the quotes and other written material, it's difficult not to gain a more human and compassionate understanding of what these citizens went through. And the photographs are first-rate documentary work, as you might expect.
Anchor Editions is selling prints of many of the photographs, although the one reproduced above is sold out.
(Thanks to John Flores, Peter Schafer, and Pete Su)
UPDATE Saturday, Feb. 4: "Hi, I'm Tim Chambers, publisher of the aforementioned photo essay and printer at Anchor Editions. Thanks for featuring Lange's photos! I'm a long-time TOP reader, so I was delighted when I came here and saw this post! I wanted to let you know that the captions below each photo were written by Lange herself, transcribed from her notes that she gave to the OWI along with her negatives.
"I agree that today a more accurate language of 'concentration camps' is more appropriate than the euphemistic 'internment' or 'relocation,' which is why I chose those words for the title and my commentary before the photos.
"Quite a few people have asked about reprints of the sold-out editions, and while I won't be extending the current editions, I do plan to produce new editions of some of the popular images, though it will necessarily be a different size and likely a different paper format as well. As with the current editions, though, I will continue to send 50% of the proceeds to the ACLU."
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(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Kenneth Tanaka: "This is a rather grim subject for me. My father and grandmother were interned at Manzanar. Ironically, his brothers (my uncles) served in the Army in a 'special' Japanese unit. It's probably the most powerful statement about the Japanese-American culture of that generation that I knew none of this until my father's death. Just last year I came across Impounded. The print quality is not tops but the images paint the picture vividly.
"I just came across a fascinating book titled Colors of Confinement by Eric Muller. It features remarkable Kodachrome images taken in the Japanese interment camps. It's available in both book and Kindle form."
Rick D: "The images continue to haunt across these many decades. We are fortunate to have them and one can only hope they resonate more strongly than ever given events of the last month. I grew up in Seattle with many Japanese-American friends and the camps were not a topic of discussion outside school history, even though their parents had all been interned. I inferred they felt shame for their nation's actions more than sorrow over what they had endured--not discussing it was itself an act of patriotism. Today I'm represented in Congress by a woman born in the Poston, Arizona, camp. I have been to the Tule Lake 'Segregation Center,' which is largely preserved by the National Park Service. A haunting spot in California's remotest corner."