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Impounded: Dorothea Lange and the Censored Images of Japanese American Internment Paperback – February 17, 2008

4.5 out of 5 stars 37 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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.

Review

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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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (February 17, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393330907
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393330908
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 0.6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #82,577 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Luan Gaines HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on November 5, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Although the text is informative in telling the history of Japanese internment during World War II, the images speak for themselves, page after page in stark black and white, the young and innocent, the old and careworn, carrying rope-bound suitcases and cardboard boxes, standing in long lines, waiting to be processed by indifferent jailors, an entire race herded into the camps that will be home for the war years, disenfranchising them of investment in community and the pride of being Americans. As history has proven over and over, fear is a monster that cannot be contained once the public is infected, the vulnerable a source of suspicion, marked by the color of their skin and the shape of their eyes.

Whole families gather in these telling photographs, leaving treasured belongings behind, grandparents to infants, all swept up in an infamous display of mistrust in a country suddenly driven to panic by a surprise attack, demanding a quick response from their government. Lange has a particular talent for capturing the very human face of the internment camps, children with ID tags attached to their coats, chain link fences topped with barbed wire circling the arid landscape, family laundry hanging from a window, the barren rows of housing units assailed by constant dust storms, women working on camouflage nets for the War Department.

Famous for her Depression era photos of migrant farm workers, this series of photographs, while ordered by the US Government, were censored for the duration of the war. The most striking feature of the collection is the very American look of these people, standing proud while saluting the flag, teenagers trying to act cool in spite of their surroundings, family gatherings that are familiar Americana.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Anyone who had relatives affected by Executive Order 9066 knows that photographic depiction of camp life was pretty much forbidden from 1942-1944. My family collection of that time consists of my Grandfather's watercolor paintings of Amache, a family photo surreptitiously taken by a Chinese visitor in 1943 and a 1945 softball game at Topaz.

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.
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Format: Hardcover
When I first opened Impounded, I was a bit irritated at the length of the two written pieces that preceeded the actual photographs or Dorthea Lange. After reading the pieces by Linda Gordon and Gary Y. Okihiro I was much more aware of the depth of Lange's growing dislike of the idea of internment camps and just how valuable these photographs are to history. I confess, I had heard very little of these "relocations" during the war,barely aware that such a thing had happened. I had lived in Utah for over ten years before I knew one camp, Topaz, had been established in my own state. Page after page of Lange's clear eyed, unsentimental photos reveal just how stark and jarring these camps were. Photo after photo show American citizens lined up and submitting to the order to move. Faces show confusion, shame and sorrow. Other photos show the efforts made by camp inhabitants to bring horticulture, education and to instill a sense of community. Page of page of photos of fellow citizens being torn away from all they had built and worked for simply because they looked like the enemy. Page after page of Lange's clear-eyed documentation.
Many, if not most of these photographs have never been seen on any widespread basis. She was working as a photographer for a government agency and they could use these as they saw fit. They were simply put away and never saw any widespread distribution. It is a testament to the skill and inspiration of the photographer that we have this book of unsentimental and honest images of that shameful time in our nation's past. The only minus is the size of the photos. I woud have liked to have a larger photos to study.
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