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Manzanar (WW II Relocation Camp for Japanese Americans)

Two well-known photographers documented Manzanar: Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange

It’s always a risk to bring up a subject like this, with some readers inferring far too much from my remarks, and judging without understanding my meaning. But I don’t like to shy away from reality.

I finally stopped to see Manzanar (near Lone Pine, CA), where up to 11,000 Japanese* were relocated during wartime. Conditions there were physically harsh, but not inhumane** from what I saw and read, including gardens and other aspects making it more tolerable than a plain prison, which is what it was of course— a prison for those having committed no crimes.

My reaction to Manzanar has always been one of disgust that this country violated its core principles, but that started with slavery and we are hardly free of the same failings today. But the greatness of a country is in doing what is right without too long a delay, and in owning up to what was wrong. Little solace for those on the short end.

It’s easy to judge history safe and sound here in the USA today, but those who lived through it for good or ill have perspectives that may be hard to grasp (so many aspects: real wartime fears, racism, political goals, propaganda, deprivations, loss of sons and families, the list goes on). A country at war is at best a morass of conflicting values and actions. So I restrain my possibly naive judgment of Manzanar vs the founding principles of this country in the context of war, where destruction of the entire Pacific Fleet was a distinct possibility. BTW, the gun emplacements on the headlands near San Francisco can still be visited; they seem rather curious and almost quaint, but there they are. Can anyone of my generation really understand the wartime context properly?

* If I have my facts right: 11,000 people of Japanese ancestry, about 2/3 of which were United States citizens. Citizens or not, these people were forcibly relocated during wartime, entirely disrupting their former lives. Of course, the hypocrisy of Japanese American soldiers fighting for the USA while their fellows were relocated is hard to reconcile with the camps.

** Being forcibly uprooted and treated like a criminal was surely hard to bear, let alone the physical conditions. It’s a sad chapter. All war is terrible, with many losers.

Shot with the Canon 11-24mm f/4L (about $2999 at B&H Photo).

Where would anyone escape to, when facial features alone would betray?
f8 @ 1/1600 sec, ISO 100; 2015-03-06 13:54:48
Canon EOS 5D Mark III + Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM @ 11mm

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No original cabins remain; this reconstruction is made of better materials than the original “green lumber”version
Numerous other cabins stretched away into the distance in several directions (see small marker posts where they once stood)
f9 @ 1/250 sec, ISO 100; 2015-03-06 14:15:51
Canon EOS 5D Mark III + Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM @ 11mm

[low-res image for bot]
Inside a reconstructed cabin, made of much more tight-fitting wood than the 'green' lumber used for the originals,
which shrank and gapped as it seasoned
f13 @ 1/5 sec, ISO 100; 2015-03-06 14:21:10
Canon EOS 5D Mark III + Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM @ 11mm

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View of the Sierra Nevada from a reconstructed Manzanar communal house (zero privacy)
f9 @ 1/200 sec, ISO 100; 2015-03-06 14:32:21
Canon EOS 5D Mark III + Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM @ 11mm

[low-res image for bot]
Japanese pond and garden area, once fed by a small reservoir not far away, in turn fed by a mountain stream
f11 @ 1/100 sec, ISO 100; 2015-03-06 14:55:03
Canon EOS 5D Mark III + Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM @ 11mm

[low-res image for bot]
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