Revered as the country’s preeminent landscape artist and photographic printer, Ansel Adams had been in the employ of the Department of the Interior while creating many of his magnificent images of the American West. At the outbreak of the war, he regretted that he was too old to enlist in the Army, but when called upon, he declared that he was only too glad to put his skills to use for the WRA. He was invited by the camp director at Manzanar later in 1943 to provide more of the “official view” of the camp experience as the internees had settled into their lives. His intent was to portray the nobility and endurance of the Japanese and as the master photographer that he was, he succeeds in his way. This is indeed a central part of the photographic narrative of the camps. And yet, as masterful as the portraits in this exhibit might be, they fairly glow with an alarming dishonesty when viewed side-by-side with the impounded photographs of Lange. The dishonesty lies in their decontextualization from the essential transgression of the Japanese-American population’s civil and human rights. None of Adams’ photographs were impounded or hidden from the public record.
For more images and information about Ansel Adams’ photography for the War Relocation Authority, please visit his collection maintained by the Library of Congress: