Dorothea Lange’s forgotten photos of Japanese concentration camps in America

admin March 29, 2022 24 Views
Updated 2022/03/29 at 8:40 AM
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Dorothea Lange’s forgotten photos of Japanese concentration camps in America
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Toyo Miyatake was already a veteran photographer when he was recruited. He had his own store in Little Tokyo (Los Angeles) and covered the 1932 Olympics. US officials forbade him from carrying any kind of camera. It was 1942 and the Japanese were interned in concentration camps in Utah, Arizona or Wyoming, a measure that still haunts American society eighty years later as a sign of this country’s darkest face, and that unresolved racial slurs. Brings the issues to life.

Miyake disobeyed. He smuggled a lens and focused glass to the Manzanar, Calif., area and managed to build a camera body out of scrap wood. He passed her over for the lunchbox and secretly started taking pictures. Writer Nancy Matsumoto states that the film was offered by a former Miyateque client who was “by sheer coincidence, a supplier to the area”.

Cars to evacuate the descendants of the Japanese, who abandoned their homes and farms, in a thriving agricultural district bound for the Merced Assembly Center, about 125 miles away.
Cars to evacuate the descendants of the Japanese, who abandoned their homes and farms, in a thriving agricultural district bound for the Merced Assembly Center, about 125 miles away.national archive

However, other photographers did not have to hide. He was himself hired by the US government to document the camps built after the Japanese attack on the American naval base at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, which meant America’s entry into World War II. One name stands out: Dorothea Lang, the famous photographer of the Great Depression. “In the 1930s he worked for the government to portray the suffering of the people and was now documenting the suffering created by the government itself,” wrote his biographer, Linda Gordon in the book. Impounded: Dorothea Lange and the Censored Images of Japanese American Internment Published in 2006.

Lang had traveled more than 17,000 miles (six times the distance between New York and Los Angeles) in the summer of 1936. He documented the undoing of the lengthy 1929 crash for President Franklin D. Roosevelt and helped justify his New Deal policies. In 1933, with a historic unemployment rate of 24.9%, a fifth of Californians turned to charity.

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Honorable Fifth Pillar

But it all starts in Hawaii. The first Japanese migration to the United States began in this remote Pacific archipelago. Some 125,000 Japanese moved there between 1894 and 1908 as a labor force for the sugar plantations. There too, the country’s definite participation in World War II precipitated. The attack on Pearl Harbor was the result of “the most effective fifth-pillar act of this war,” Navy Secretary Frank Knox said days later. It was not a minority opinion or a mood.

Members of the Mochida family wait for the evacuation bus at the After War Rehabilitation Authority centres.
Members of the Mochida family wait for the evacuation bus at the After War Rehabilitation Authority centres.national archive

Editorial written by WH Anderson Los Angeles Times: “A viper is a viper where eggs hatch. An American of Japanese parents grows up as a Japanese, not an American.” Influential columnist Walter Lippmann warned in similar pages of an “imminent attack from inside and out”. Popular cartoonist Dr. Seuss opposed Hitler or Hirohito, but also published a cartoon with an endless row of smiling Japanese people collecting dynamite along with the “Honorable Fifth Pillar” from an American beach booth.

Roger Daniels explains in his book concentration camp usa That, at the end of January 1942, a survey estimated the proportion of Americans at 38% who considered their compatriots of Japanese descent to be “distrustful”. A month later, that number had risen to 77 percent. On February 19, Roosevelt approved Executive Order 9066, which militarized the West Coast, kept Japanese Americans out and allowed them to be placed under house arrest.

seabiscuit stable

About 120,000 Japanese out of a total of 126,948 living in the Americas (74% in California) were uprooted from their lands. Two-thirds of those born there were full US citizens. No civil or criminal charges were brought against him. The government called them “evacuees” and argued for national security and even their own security.

Dorothea Lange was hired just in time to photograph the first detection and takedown of her life. “They only took what they could carry,” says Linda Gordon. Farms, businesses and homes were confiscated. “Vultures with vans roamed the streets and offered almost five dollars for a new washing machine or 10 dollars for a refrigerator,” recalls Hawaiian Bill Osokawa. Bank accounts were frozen and savings were confiscated. Couples such as Michiko and Ki Uchida got married in a hurry so that they could be placed under house arrest together.

Lang worked tirelessly in April and May. He got only three days off. His intense work behind the camera, however, soon became troublesome for his mentors. Lang always had to turn into his negative every day. “He signed under oath and before a notary.” His photos began to receive ratings: imbued (confiscated). Hardly a snapshot will emerge until after the war.

Why did they hire Lang? Years later, the photographer himself offered a possible explanation: “They wanted to record things, but not in public.” Her second husband, Paul Taylor, had another idea: “A photographic record could protect her from potential charges of violation of international law.” Linda Gordon herself offers a more practical approach to this newsletter by email: “She was the only photographer in the area who had already worked for the government and also needed someone to connect with immediately. However, I suspect that the officers who hired him were unaware of his job. ,

Lang also depicted the so-called settlement centres, which preceded the farms themselves. They were throughout the San Francisco Bay Area and the state of California, often in stables at famous racetracks. “The government took out the horses and put us in. It sank badly,” says prisoner Osuke Takizawa. in the book Hood River IsseiLinda Tamura recounts an anecdote: “Inmates at the Santa Anita Racetrack compete for the honor of living in units 24 and 25 of Barracks 28: the once famous racehorse sea ​​biscuit,

that the so-called assembly center There weren’t officially concentration camps. That doesn’t mean they didn’t look like that. There were soldiers with barbed wire, watchmen and bayonets. Lang was prohibited from taking photographs of any of these things. “She was furious and it showed,” says Linda Gordon. confiscated, In late June he went to his final and most important destination: the Manzanar region.

become invisible

Manzanar did not need barbed wire. Like Alcatraz, security was imposed by geography itself. The 36 tar paper barracks of this deserted former apple farm housed more than 10,000 prisoners. The gorgeous and white Sierra Nevada won’t protect against sandstorms or 38º degrees in summer and frost in winter.

In Manzanar, Lang needed to be at his best. “She was known for being almost invisible,” says Gordon. Lang expressed it mysteriously: “If I don’t want anyone to see me, I can put on a face like this so that no one sees me”. But he asked the prisoners for permission to photograph them, reassuring them that “recording everything in the future could be valuable.” Almost all his photographs were outdoors as he did not like the light of the bulbs and had to respect the precarious privacy of those families. Important daily rituals for the Japanese, such as setting the table or cleaning, were nearly impossible.

In spite of everything, Manzanar was not a demonic place. Barracks were decorated, crops were grown, newspapers were written (never in Japanese, in a forbidden language), furniture was made, basketball was played. An impeccable resignation shone. Lang’s photos are neither sharp nor apocalyptic. They are complex. The prisoners are full of impassioned dignity.

But Lang faced many difficulties. They didn’t just confiscate his pictures. “A soldier always followed me everywhere.” They prevented him from talking to the prisoners. They placed him with the bureaucracy. He vetoed the places. “If the military in charge of the fields had been consulted, they would never have hired him,” says his assistant, Christina Page. In internal memos he declared himself “very concerned” about his work.

On 30 July 1942, the government fired him from his job. Earlier he told Protestant Quaker Caleb Foot that he felt guilty. He had taken 760 photos. Writer Gary Okihiro reflects, “It was bittersweet for him to see how the intense and passionate work of those months went unpublished, unpublished, seemingly destroyed.”

Ki and Michiko

When Japan surrendered, 44,000 people were still in the camps. The last one closed in March 1946. Until then, all of Lang’s photos had been quietly deposited in the US National Archives, open to anyone. But few people knew they existed until the 1970s.

“Even after the war, other Americans treated me like an enemy,” recalls Mary Kurihara. “They were hostile and I had a really hard time looking for a job.” The public redress lasted until 1988. George H.W. Bush’s Civil Liberties Act issued an amnesty and offered $20,000 for each survivor. A 1943 government report stated: “No acts of Japanese sabotage were committed before or after Pearl Harbor.”

Ki and Michiko Uchida were still alive. It was a Berkeley couple who married hastily to avoid being placed under separate detention. A wedding was photographed, they could not remember how and what they thought they would “not copy”. In 1958, a family friend who was a military researcher in Washington told him the unthinkable: “I think I saw your wedding photo in the National Archives.” This was a picture of Dorothea Lange.

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