Three Unique Photographers Bring Their Voices to One of America's Darkest Chapters

KCET’s “Lost LA” does deep dives into the lesser-known history of Southern California. In a recent episode, photography takes center stage as they tell the story behind some of the most famous images from one of the darkest chapters in American history.

Nowadays, one of the most popular genres of YouTube videos or photo articles is to have multiple photographers shoot the same subject. It’s a fun exercise and always worth a watch. The overarching point of the videos is to show how we, as photographers, all see the world in our own unique way and how it affects the final result. But such disparities in artistic voice play themselves out in the real world as well. Photography is one of the most powerful tools for truth ever created. But it remains in the hands of the photographer to convey the most honest truth possible, while sometimes battling against the limitations of distribution channels to share the most pure version of those images with the public.

As America entered World War II against the Axis powers of Germany, Italy, and Japan, the United States betrayed its own ideals in the presumed name of national security. The U.S. government rounded up all those of Japanese heritage, citizen and non-citizen alike, and confined them to internment camps regardless of guilt or innocence, forever changing the lives of the victims. The subject of internment and the horrors visited upon a section of the United States population is well documented and far beyond my abilities to adequately summarize in a short article on Fstoppers. So, I will not even begin to attempt to do so here. Although, if it's a history you are unfamiliar with, it would be worth your time to do some research and watch one of the many documentaries on the subject.

What I would like to do is to strongly encourage you, as a photographer, to take some time out to watch KCET’s new episode of “Lost LA,” where the host visits Manzanar, perhaps the most famous of the camps, to speak specifically about some of the best known photographs that were taken during that period, their histories, and the way the images of Manzanar were greatly influenced by who was behind the camera. 

The photographers' names include ones you likely know, like Dorothea Lange and Ansel Adams, and one you may not know, incarceree Tōyō Miyatake, who bravely smuggled a lens into the internment camp before going about building an entire camera from scratch with materials found around the camp grounds. Just seeing how that camera is built is worth a watch in and of itself and a testament to the human will to create. It also provides a unique insider perspective versus those produced by Lange and Adams.

For a true understanding of how vision and voice affects the work we create, do yourself a favor, and take a bit of time to check out KCET's “Three Views of Manzanar."

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11 Comments

Robert Nurse's picture

It's hard to imagine how this was even allowed to happen.

Terry Waggoner's picture

Fear is a strong emotion..............and before you get the wrong idea, what happened to these American citizens is unforgivable.

Tim Ericsson's picture

Any reason for the downvote on my comment?

Tim Ericsson's picture

“We” don’t get to forgive what wasn’t done to us, which is why I wrote that forgiveness—unless you were actually incarcerated in a camp—is immaterial and unobtainable, and therefore far less useful than remembering the horrors and not downplaying the events. That’s how we ensure something like this won’t happen again: not by just “getting over it” but by understanding it.

Tim Ericsson's picture

Yes, in general "we" can't forgive something "we" weren't apart of. That was one of my points.

One thing we don't have to speculate on are the reasons for the incarceration. The official legislative findings of the Commission on Wartime Relocation definitely state that "racial prejudice, wartime hysteria, and a failure of political leadership" were the causes of the incarceration. This led to multiple presidents (Reagan, Bush, and Clinton) issuing formal apologies that echoed the causes as being racist and hysterical. Any mental gymnastics that try to diminish or cloud these facts are either not in good-faith or ignorant, and can led to future abuses.

Your nihilist attitude and overgeneralizations on sin and forgiveness can enable bigotry. Be more mindful.

Tim Ericsson's picture

So you disagree that racial prejudice was a major cause of the incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII.

Tim Ericsson's picture

That's a bullshit cop-out. You're more than happen to peddle your own hypotheses on why the government forced over 100,000 citizens into prisons for years, but when presented with evidence you suddenly slough into skepticism. Doesn't fit your narrative, must ignore!

Wait a minute: your religious smugness, thinkly-veiled attacks on progressive values, inability to admit fault, use of dumbass smiley faces. I remember you...Sam.

Tim Ericsson's picture

People deny the Holocaust: doesn't make them right. And it isn't just a polite disagreement on opinion to deny facts when it involves people's rights and livelihoods.

LOL what happened to the old name? You get kicked off like the other trolls on this site: Bob Brady, William Howell, etc.?

I dub you "Sham Fargo"

Oh, and I remember you because you've got a pretty simplistic style to your posts and responses. You also could never let anyone have the last word on something: let's see if your time in the detention (of self-induced exile, whatever you claim) has rid you of that little personality tic.

Tim Ericsson's picture

Welp, nevermind, looks like you were banned. Farewell, Sham!

Tim Ericsson's picture

Simply put: fear and racism is how this can happen. There’s a lot more to unpack of course, but before we have any discussion on the rather personal and ultimately immaterial/unobtainable concept of forgiveness in this instance, the horrific act itself needs to be better understood and it’s causes revealed to a wider audience. That’s what a great and interesting documentary such as this one can help achieve. You all may want to “forgive” for whatever reason, but more importantly, we need to never forget.

Robby MacGillivray's picture

Firstly - congratulations on a fascinating documentary - here in South Australia the Government set up internment camps and many of Italian males were incarcerated for the entire period of WW2 - most were simple fisherman or laborers who had lived in Adelaide most of their lives. My dearly departed Mate spoke of seeing his father only a handful of times during those years. Prisoners of War were also transported from the other side of the world to this camp. All were repatriated in 1946 and amazingly many decided to immigrate back to Australia - ultimately the Italian community here thrived post war and are responsible for a rich culture of wine and food which makes our state a much better place for us all :)