Ansel Adams Manzanar Book: Born Free and Equal

on Thursday, Jul. 28th

Originally published in 1944, legendary photographer Ansel Adams’ book Born Free and Equal is a collection of photographs taken at the Manzanar Relocation Center, authorized by the War Relocation Authority. It was out of print for nearly fifty years, but was reissued Spotted Dog Press in 2002. The entire book is also available free online viewing from the Library of Congress. I’ve known about these photographs, but I’ve never looked at the book before. The images are incredible, but what’s fascinating is the obvious tension evoked by Adams’ text. He seems to be able to accept that the government’s “evacuation” of Japanese Americans citizens was “justified on the ground of military necessity,” and yet also seems troubled by the forced incarceration and its implications for democracy.

The book was criticized for painting an overly sunny portrait of internees and camp life — happy, loyal and dignified. I mean, seriously, have you ever visited the Manzanar National Historic Site? It sucks. The photos might be beautiful, but if the government forces you to drop everything and live in a friggin’ barrack out in there in the desert, you are not going to be happy.

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