Ansel Adams: Manzanar


It seems that just about every photo enthusiast has heard of Ansel Adams. Rightfully so. With his trademark Zone System that he developed in 1940 with Fred Archer that divided photos in to eleven tonal zones from Zero (pure black) to X (pure white) and his use of that system to create some of the most stunning landscape images in history, it’s not surprising that most people know him for those images.

Adams was also a very socially conscious person, and in 1943, he went to Manzanar, in the Owens Valley – a remote and almost desolate location on the East side of his beloved Sierra Nevada Mountains. Manzanar, now a National Historic Site, is the location of one of ten Japanese American Incarceration camps of WWII. The camps are a sad reminder of the fear and government of the WWII era. Adams went there to capture life in the incarceration camp, and found that in spite of the circumstances, human spirit prevailed.

Many of the photos are portraits, but there are also plenty of others. The point is, although Ansel Adams is known as an amazing landscape photographer, his other projects are worth exploring.

Adams donated the images to the Library of Congress in 1965. In the letter that accompanied the images and negatives, he 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vital community in an arid (but magnificent) environment….All in all, I think this Manzanar Collection is an important historical document, and I trust it can be put to good use.”


To read a bit more and view the whole set, visit the Library of Congress page located here.

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