Manzanar: The Wartime Photographs of Ansel Adams Exhibit Open at Fullerton Museum Center

Manzanar: The Wartime Photographs of Ansel Adams, an exhibition featuring fifty photographs by Ansel Adams of the Japanese American relocation camp in Manzanar, California, during World War II, opened at the Fullerton Museum Center on Saturday, January 21. The photographs on display were the subject of Adams’s controversial book, Born Free and Equal, which was initially published in 1944, while the war was still happening, in order to protest the treatment of these American citizens.

            “This exhibition recounts one of the darkest moments in the history of the United States, one that the distinguished author John Hersey referred to as ‘a mistake of terrifyingly horrible proportions.’ It is a story of ignorance and prejudice, but also a story of perseverance and nobility. What happened should never be forgotten so that it should never happen again,” states introductory wall text from Robert Flynn Johnson’s essay for the exhibition.

Curated by Jensine Kraus and Monzerrath Alarcon, with help from advisors Cheri Pape, Jane Ishibashi, and Susan McNamara, Manzanar: The Wartime Photographs of Ansel Adams also includes twenty-five various photographs, documents, and works of art that further record the World War II-era. Photographer Dorothea Lange’s pictures of Manzanar are on display, as well as work by Japanese-American artist, Chiura Obata.

Six of the exhibit’s sculptures/installations were made by mixed media LA-based artist Shizu Saldamando, whose work is intended to pay “homage to the Japanese Americans—including local residents and the artist’s own West Coast relatives—who were incarcerated on O’ahu and on the US mainland during World War II.” According to the curators, Saldamando’s work “serves to bridge the gap between the not-so-distant past and the present, exploring the enduring impact of Japanese American incarceration on her community today.”

The exhibit also features Manzanar Yuki, an award-winning film directed by Scott Feldman, and written by Brad Colerick. The film tells the story of a single mother and child who are incarcerated at the outbreak of WWII. The mother, powerless to change circumstances, tries to instill hope and self-esteem in her two-year-old daughter, Yuki.

At the opening reception, a crowded room of museum patrons congregated as co-curators Kraus and Alarcon briefly talked about Adams’s photographic work. Some of the special guests in attendance on Saturday evening were Mary Kageyama Nomura, an American singer of Japanese descent, who was relocated and incarcerated at the Manzanar concentration camp during World War II, and became known as the “Songbird of Manzanar,” and Joyce Yuki Nakamura, one of the children Adams photographed in Manzanar.

According to the curators’ note, Adams’s approach has been criticized for whitewashing the reality of the period, and for painting much too happy a picture of such an egregious violation of human rights. “The intention of his photographs however was not necessarily to expose the oppressive and hostile nature of the internment, but rather to humanize the incarcerated Japanese Americans of the racist exclusion, who had been demonized by mainstream White American society in a storm of racism and xenophobia stoked by wartime paranoia and outrage,” explained the curators in their opening remarks. “Adams’s Manzanar work is a departure from his signature style of landscape photography. Although a majority of the photographs are portraits, the images also include views of daily life, agricultural scenes, and sports and leisure activities.”

According to wall text, “This is not an art exhibition, a history lesson, or a study in race relations; it is all three. The hope is that it educates us about an unfortunate moment in the country’s history that must be better understood. It also should serve as a warning as to what can occur when emotion and fear overwhelm clarity and courage.”

            Adams’s photographs of Manzanar, which were originally taken in 1943, are prints from the original negatives housed in the Library of Congress. They were previously shown in the exhibition, Born Free and Equal: An Exhibition of Ansel Adams Photographs, organized by the Fresno Metropolitan Museum of Art, History and Science in 1984.

Manzanar: The Wartime Photographs of Ansel Adams was made possible by Ingrid and Yo Harita. The exhibit is open from January 21st until April 9th, 2023, at the Fullerton Museum Center. Admission for adults is $10 and admission for children aged 5 to 18 is $5. Museum members and children under the age of 5 are allowed in for free.

For further information, please contact

Fullerton Museum Center staff by phone at (714) 519 – 4461

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Co-curators Jensine Kraus and Monzerrath Alarcon speak at opening reception of Manzanar exhibit at FMC