Art and outdoor conservationists around the world celebrated famed American Landscape Photographer Ansel Adams’ birthday on February 20th, but the photographer best known for making Yosemite a household name also documented one of the most controversial times in American history. In 1943, Adams was invited by Ralph Merritt, the newly appointed director of the Manzanar War Relocation Center in Owens Valley, California to document daily life at the Japanese-American internment camp. His project, which ended in 1944, was published in the book “Born Free and Equal: The Story of Loyal Japanese-Americans“
Adams had a very clear goal for the project from the beginning. He wanted to show the world that the families living in the camp were not to be feared, as they were good citizens of the United Sates. He also sought to tell the stories about how they coped with the sudden and stressful change in their lives. Adams, in a letter offering the collection to the Library of Congress, said:
The purpose of my work was to show how these people, suffering under a great injustice, and loss of property, businesses and professions, had overcome the sense of defeat and dispair [sic] by building for themselves a vital community in an arid (but magnificent) environment…All in all, I think this Manzanar Collection is an important historical document, and I trust it can be put to good use.
The photographs show that Adam’s should be recognized for much more than his landscape photography innovation, as he was also an accomplished photojournalist. His visual story of the lives of the internees should serve as a constant reminder of the hardships that the families of Japanese-Americans faced during World War II.