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Impounded: Dorothea Lange and the Censored Images of Japanese American Internment Paperback – February 17, 2008
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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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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. "
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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.
She documents scenes we are all familiar with, and often ashamed of!
The US government was desperately thrashing after the 1929 Great Depression and the Dust Bowl that followed.
Mrs Lange documented the ironic and the saddest scene of human suffering and tragedy in images you will recall from Life and Look magazines, Time, and PBS documentaries.
But for Dorothea Lange's remarkable photographs of this egregious episode in our racist past (German and Italian Americans were treated with much more deference), we would have a far less meaningful record of the wrongs visited on Americans of Japanese ancestry. The story of how the photographs came to be taken is told in the first of two long chapters of "Impounded." The second long chapter is an account of the "profound effects in the Japanese American community" of its members long internment in what were barely more than concentration camps.
First published five years ago, some 65 years after the events portrayed, Lange's photographs reveal her sympathy for her subjects. One will search the photographs in vain for any evidence that these Americans either singularly or as a group posed any threat to our security. Not one of pictures could, by any stretch of FDR's war driven imagination, be used to show that the internment program was justified. No wonder, then, that the government suppressed their publication, impressing the word "impounded" on the prints.
"Impounded" tells two stories, both important to our understanding of the period. The first, the one told in the photographs, is that of the nature of, and the effects of, the unjustified deprivation of the civil rights on an entire subset of the American population. The second story, unspoken except by implication, is of the government's acknowledgment of the wrongs committed by its need to impound these photographs. Linda Gordon and Gary Okihhiro, the editors of "Impounded", demonstrate just how fragile our liberties are and how much is required of us all to prevent their erosion by our government. It can happen here.
End note. An earlier review by Rollin Drew sharply criticizes the publisher for the inferior quality of the book's reproductions of Lange's extraordinary photographs. He may well be right as a technical matter. But on the level at which this book spoke to me, the quality of the prints amply reveals Lange's remarkable courage in challenging the underlying need for the relocation program and by showing the scarring hardships it imposed on our fellow citizens. See if you don't agree.