Impounded and suppressed: Dorothea Lange’s record of Japanese concentration camps in the US

Waiting for the Bus, Byron, 1942

On December 7th 2016 Tim Chambers, a Californian photographer and graphic designer, posted on his blog an article on about Dorothea Lange’s work on the imprisonment of Japanese-Americans in 1942, a historical event that derived from president Roosevelt’s executive order 9066 after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

Already embarked on a fine art edition project entitled Archor Editions, Chambers took advantage of this anniversary -75 years later- and decided to dig into the stories behind Lange’s images, through research and by making this testimony available to the public, launching a fine art edition of some of the images belonging to the the portfolio. “I’m making limited edition prints of a few of Lange’s photographs, and I will be donating 50% of the proceeds from sales of these prints to the ACLU, who were there during WWII handling the two principal Supreme Court cases fighting against the government’s mass incarceration of Japanese-Americans, and who have pledged to continue to fight against further unconstitutional civil rights violations. Their fight seems especially important today given the current tide of anti-Muslim rhetoric, and talk of national registries and reactionary immigration policies”, explained Chambers in Anchor Editions website.

The indagatory research process of Lange’s document and its diffusion through Anchor Editions, which involves digitizing, restoring, and printing from negatives that have been sitting for 75 years in the National Archives, also coincided with the turmoil caused by Donald Trump commentaries on “illegal aliens”, followed by threats that became reality more recently with Trump’s call to end DACA, a program that granted legal benefits to nearly 800.000 “dreamers”.

The moment seemed right to address issues of segregation. Without a doubt, we are confronted with xenophobia on a daily basis. It is mandatory to speak out about it from different scenarios, including art. And photographers have an important task: to engage in documenting the struggles of those trying to survive in a world determined by asymmetries and inequality, where those in power fight for the annihilation of the other to the extreme of deleting its traces.

Anchor Editions’ project of Dorothea Lange’s Japanese Internment Photographs has contributed not only to revised the US history in terms of discrimination and violation of civil rights, but contributed through photography to help a cause, in this case that of ACLU.

Pledge of Allegiance, San Francisco, 1942

The history behind Lange’s portfolio
Known for her documentary work of on the Farm Security Administration photographs of migrants in California in the 1930s, Lange was hired by the U.S. government to record the “evacuation” and “relocation” of Japanese-Americans. More than 800 images were produced. The fate of Lange’s record of Japanese-Americans concentration camps in California was to become censored by the US military forces, who quietly wrote on the back of the images the word “Impounded” and deposited them into the National Archives, where they remained unseen until 2006.“Lange’s photographs are not only a useful and informative record of what happened leading up to and including the imprisonment of Japanese-Americans, they are also an exceptional record of her own evolution as a documentary photographer. She continued to develop her portrait-focused style portraying the people of the camps, but also expanded her view to include the environment and the conditions of the roundup and the camps. She followed families as they made arrangements to dispose of their farms and businesses prior to the “evacuation” and as they adapted to their new lives in the concentration camps. She recorded the evidence that the prisoners continued to lean on their own creativity and resilience to make their environment more hospitable despite the harsh reality of their situation.”, said Chambers.

For more information on this project visit https://anchoreditions.com