Photographs of an Episode That Lives in Infamy (NYT)


During the winter of 1942, in the first heated months of America’s war with Japan, the United States government ordered tens of thousands of people of Japanese ancestry, two-thirds of them American citizens, to report to assembly centers throughout the West for transfer to internment camps. The infamous episode has been widely chronicled in books and memoirs, as well as in famous photos by Ansel Adams.

But now close to 800 new images from the period by the photographer Dorothea Lange have been unearthed in the National Archives, where they had lain neglected for a half-century after having been impounded by the government.

Adams portrayed the internees in the now-infamous camp at Manzanar, Calif., in heroic poses, lighted against the backdrop of the majestic Sierras mountains. Lange’s images — nearly a hundred of which are being published for the first time — tell a starkly different story.

The pictures in “Impounded” (W. W. Norton) bear the hallmarks of Lange’s distinctive documentary style. (She is best known from her photographs of migrant farmers in the Depression for the Farm Security Administration.) Seemingly unstaged and unlighted, the pictures of the internees compress intense human emotion into carefully composed frames. (more…)