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Crocker Art Museum to show Japanese American internment photographs by Ansel Adams, Leonard Frank
Ansel Adams, Calisthenics, Manzanar Relocation Center, 1943. Courtesy of Library of Congress.

SACRAMENTO, CA.- Following Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbor, the governments of the United States and Canada forcibly relocated citizens of Japanese ancestry. Two renowned photographers – American Ansel Adams and Canadian Leonard Frank – documented the relocation and internment of their fellow citizens. On February 19, 2017, exactly 75 years to the day after Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the order authorizing the imprisonment of Japanese Americans, the Crocker Art Museum will open Two Views: Photographs by Ansel Adams and Leonard Frank. This compelling collection includes more than 60 images taken by Adams and Frank in the incarceration camps. To coincide with the exhibition opening, the Museum will also host a Day of Remembrance, to honor the resilience of Japanese Americans imprisoned in the camps.

While San Francisco-born photographer Ansel Adams (1902-1984) was widely known for his landscape images, his documentation of the lives of Japanese Americans imprisoned in a California internment camp is itself a collection of high artistic as well as historical significance. On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which authorized the designation of military zones along the West Coast, and effectively led to the incarceration of some 120,000 Japanese Americans in camps scattered through the American West.

Driven by anger and distress at the government’s treatment of Japanese Americans, Adams made numerous trips at his own expense to photograph daily life inside one of the camps -- the Manzanar War Relocation Center in California’s Owens Valley. Surrounded by barbed wire and armed guard towers, people at Manzanar lived in small barracks that provided minimal shelter against the extreme desert temperatures, which could be scorching hot in the summer and bitterly cold in the winter. Adams’ photographs emphasize the resourcefulness of the 10,000 prisoners who overcame defeat and despair, and created a community with schools, farmland, a newspaper, a co-op store, and several essential services. Adams exhibited the photographs at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and published them in his controversial 1945 book Born Free and Equal. He gave the complete collection to the Library of Congress in 1965.

“This is a rare opportunity to see a different side of Ansel Adams,” says Crocker Art Museum Associate Curator Kristina Gilmore. “He’s known for his majestic landscapes, but these photographs are about humankind – and America – at its best and worst. The people pictured are suffering a terrible injustice, but the photos show their courage and upbeat spirit in spite of it all.”

As a German-born Jew, photographer Leonard Frank (1870-1944) moved to Alberni, British Columbia, Canada, in 1894. During World War I he had personally endured racism, which forced his move to Vancouver in 1916. Renowned for his commercial and industrial photography, the British Columbia Security Commission contracted him to record the removal of Japanese Canadians from the coast. Frank documented many who had been given 24 hours to pack one suitcase each before being separated from their families, their property sold without their consent. At Hastings Park, the internment camps in British Colombia, and other incarceration sites, Frank’s stark and disturbing photographs capture the institutional forces at work, with people living in makeshift bunk rooms crammed into agricultural buildings and horse stalls.

Gilmore adds, “Leonard Frank’s photographs reveal some of the grim environments of several holding areas and camps. It must have been especially disconcerting for him to see this happening in Canada because several of his own family members were being persecuted in Nazi Germany. His sister managed to escape Germany and survive the holocaust, but other relatives were ultimately killed in the extermination camps.”

Two Views: Photographs by Ansel Adams and Leonard Frank will be on view at the Crocker Art Museum from February 19 – May 14, 2017. The exhibition was organized by Nikkei National Museum & Cultural Centre.

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