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Impounded: Dorothea Lange and the Censored Images of Japanese American Internment Hardcover – November 1, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
When America's War Relocation Authority hired Dorothea Lange to photograph the internment of Japanese-Americans in 1942, they put a few restrictions on her work. Barbed wire, watchtowers and armed soldiers were off limits, they declared. And no pictures of resistance, either. They wanted the roundup and sequestering of Japanese-Americans documented—but not too well. Working within these limits, Lange, who is best known for her photographs of migrant farmers during the Depression, nonetheless produced images whose content so opposed the federal objective of demonizing Japanese-Americans that the vast majority of the photographs were suppressed throughout WWII (97% of them have never been published at all). Editors Gordon and Okihiro set this first collection of Lange's internment work within technical, cultural and historical contexts. Gordon (The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction) discusses Lange's professional methods and the formation of her "democratic-populist" beliefs. Okihiro (Whispered Silences: Japanese Americans and World War II) traces the history of prejudice against Japanese Americans, with emphasis on internees' firsthand accounts. But the bulk of the book is given over to Lange's photographs. Several of these are as powerful as her most stirring work, and the final image—of a grandfather in the desolate Manzanar Center looking down in anguish at the grandson between his knees—is worth the price of the book alone. 104 photos, 2 maps. (Nov.)
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In these days of fear of the terrorist 'other', reading this measured, intelligent introduction to a time that is all-too possible to imagine recurring, and looking at Lange's photos... may be one of the most useful things one can do this Christmas. "
[The] images show Americans of Japanese extraction being relocated to 'assembly centers', labeled and processed like cattle and closeted away in dismal shacks for the duration of the war... No wonder her pictures were never used and disappeared for half a century. "
Through her discerning and sensitive eye, Lange's observations of the situation were too real and too critical for the government, and were consequently confiscated. "
[T]he bulk of the book is given over to Lange's photographs. Several of these are as powerful as her most stirring work, and the final image of a grandfather in the desolate Manzanar Center looking down in anguish at the grandson between his knees is worth the price of the book alone. " --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
As Gary Y. Okihoro writes in his contribution to this book, "As the nation prepared to defend democracy against the threat of fascism, its leaders authorized and conducted undemocratic actions that bypassed and ignored constitutional guarantees and freedoms." It is impossible to justify that irony. The program was conducted pursuant to Executive Order 9066, which Franklin D. Roosevelt issued in February 1942, in the wake of Pearl Harbor. But the seeds of the program long pre-dated Pearl Harbor. One of the sorry facts I learned from Okihoro's essay was that as early as August 1936 FDR was advocating that the military compile a secret list of those Japanese "who would be the first to be placed in a concentration camp in the event of trouble." FDR deserves praise for his overall sympathy for the common man and woman, but as regards the Japanese he had a racist blind spot.
Based in large part on her famous photographs taken for the Farm Security Administration during the Depression, Dorothea Lange was engaged by the government to document the "relocation" (the preferred euphemism) of the Japanese-Americans. The War Relocation Authority probably hoped that her photographs would generate support for its program, just as her Depression photographs had done for the FSA. But that would have required photographs of happy, smiling, contented incarcerates - subjects hard to find. Plus, Lange refused to be co-opted into promoting a lie. Instead, as a body of work her photographs "challenged the political culture that categorized people of Japanese ancestry as disloyal, perfidious, and potentially traitorous, that stripped them of their citizenship and made them un-American." So the WRA declined to publish the vast majority of Lange's photographs, instead quietly depositing them in the National Archive.
IMPOUNDED tells the above tale in three sections. First there is an essay by Linda Gordon about Dorothea Lange that focuses primarily on her work for the WRA. Second is an essay by Gary Y. Okihoro that discusses the history of American discrimination against Japanese immigrants and especially the various manifestations of that racism during World War II. Third is a collection of slightly over 100 of the photographs that Dorothea Lange took in 1942 of Japanese-Americans (a) during the days before the evacuation, (b) being rounded up, (c) living in rather squalid conditions at various assembly centers, and (d) as imprisoned at Manzanar, the largest of the ten camps.
Now why do I say the book is not wholly satisfactory? First, as other reviewers have noted, the photographs, as reproduced here, tend to be disappointingly small in size and of middling quality. Some of the more poignant and striking of the photographs can also be found, larger and better reproduced, in "Executive Order 9066" by Maisie and Richard Conrat (which, incidentally, I recommend over this book for those who are primarily looking for photographs of the internment program). Second, both of the authors - Okihoro more so than Gordon - are too tendentious and heavy-handed for my taste. It's a rather small point, and a condemnatory attitude is understandable, but the injustice of the internment program is manifest from any sober, objective recounting of the facts and does not need to be constantly underscored with judgmental cynicism and pathos. I would have preferred that the book left the propaganda to Lange and her more nuanced photographs.
What the pictures cannot relate, given by the essays is the nature of the social and legal contexts and the largely defective processes of both reason and juris prudence which allowed the implementation of this travesty to progress.
I purchased the book hoping to see additional images of Amache and Topaz, my Father's and Mother's respective camps. While I really didn't expect to see them in any of Dorothea Lange's photos, I came to realize that the pictures, absent any geographic landmarks, could easily have been taken in any of the ten camps. Some of the shots appear to have been editorially 'stylized', but I have been told that film speeds and camera shutters of the time were not conducive to candid images. It is clear that I have grown accustomed to a digital age with high resolution and strobe lights. Regardless, I very much appreciate and respect the effort undertaken in finally publishing these censored photos.
The ultimate surprise came from a non-Dorothea Lange photo at the beginning of the book. It shows a crowd of Issei and Nisei in San Francisco enroute to the Santa Anita assembly center. The photo not only shows Dorothea Lange holding a large format reflex camera in the background, it also shows my Father, Grandfather and Uncle! But for a man's fedora and a woman's hat blocking them, my Grandmother and other Uncle would also be visible.
A cropped version of the picture was shown on the front page of the April 7, 1942 edition of the San Francisco News, so it can be deduced that the photo was taken no later than April 6, 1942.
I can only hope that other Japanese American families will be able to identify significant relatives following close examination of these now un-censored photos.