Manzanar: The War Photographs of Ansel Adamsan exhibit featuring fifty photographs by Ansel Adams of the Japanese American relocation camp in Manzanar, California during World War II opened at the Fullerton Museum Center on Saturday, January 21. The exhibited photographs were the subject of Adams’ controversial book, Born free and equalwhich was originally published in 1944, while the war was still going on, to protest the treatment of these American citizens.
“This exhibit chronicles one of the darkest moments in American history, a moment that eminent author John Hersey has called a ‘mistake of terribly horrific proportions.’ It is a story of ignorance and prejudice, but also a story of perseverance and nobility. What happened must never be forgotten so that it never happens again,” states the introductory text of Robert Flynn Johnson’s essay wall for the exhibit.
Organized by Jensine Kraus and Monzerrath Alarcon, with the help of advisors Cheri Pape, Jane Ishibashi and Susan McNamara, Manzanar: The War Photographs of Ansel Adams also includes twenty-five photographs, documents and various works of art that bear witness to the era of the Second World War. Manzanar photos by photographer Dorothea Lange are on display, along with works by Japanese-American artist Chiura Obata.
Six of the sculptures/installations in the exhibit were created by Los Angeles-based artist Shizu Saldamando, whose work is intended to pay “homage to Japanese Americans, including local residents and artist on the West Coast, who were incarcerated on O’ahu, and on the American mainland during World War II. According to curators, Saldamando’s work “serves to bridge the gap between the not-so-distant past and the present, exploring the lasting impact of Japanese American incarceration on its community today”.
The exhibition also features Yuki Manzanar, an award-winning film directed by Scott Feldman and written by Brad Colerick. The film tells the story of a single mother and her child imprisoned at the start of World War II. The mother, powerless to change the circumstances, tries to instill hope and self-esteem in her two-year-old daughter, Yuki.
At the opening reception, a packed room of museum patrons gathered as co-curators Kraus and Alarcon spoke briefly about Adams’ photographic work. Some of the special guests on Saturday night were Mary Kageyama Nomura, a Japanese-American singer, who was transferred to and incarcerated at Manzanar Concentration Camp during World War II, and became known as the “Songbird of Manzanar “, and Joyce Yuki Nakamura, one of the children Adams photographed in Manzanar.
According to the Tories’ memo, Adams’ approach has been criticized for whitewashing the reality of the time and for painting an all too happy picture of such a gross violation of human rights. “The intention of his photographs, however, was not necessarily to expose the oppressive and hostile nature of internment, but rather to humanize the incarcerated Japanese Americans of racist exclusion, who had been demonized by the traditional white American society in a storm of racism and xenophobia fueled by wartime paranoia and outrage,” the curators explained in their opening remarks. “Adams’ Manzanar work deviates from his signature style Although the majority of the photographs are portraits, the images also include views of everyday life, agricultural scenes, and sports and leisure activities.
According to the wall text, “This is not an art exhibit, a history lesson, or a study of race relations; it’s the three. The hope is that it educates us on an unfortunate moment in the country’s history that needs to be better understood. It should also serve as a warning of what can happen when emotion and fear overwhelm clarity and courage.
The Adams de Manzanar photographs, which were originally taken in 1943, are prints from the original negatives held at the Library of Congress. They have been shown previously in the exhibition, Born Free and Equal: An Exhibition of Photographs by Ansel Adamsorganized by the Fresno Metropolitan Museum of Art, History and Science in 1984.
Manzanar: The War Photographs of Ansel Adams was made possible by Ingrid and Yo Harita. The exhibition is open from January 21 to April 9, 2023 at the Fullerton Museum Center. Admission for adults is $10 and admission for children ages 5-18 is $5. Museum members and children under 5 are admitted free.
For more information, please contact
Fullerton Museum Center staff by phone at (714) 519 – 4461
or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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