Ansel Adams’ “Born Free and Equal”
Ansel Adams is probably the most famous American photographer. He died three years before I was born, in 1984, and is responsible for the much of the American West’s iconic imagery. There is currently an exhibit of his work and another of Annie Leibovitz at the Corcoran in downtown DC. It’s worth the ten dollars. Anyway, I was writing a paper about a particular work in the exhibit that caught my eye.
Adams took the picture while visiting Mazanar, one of the Japanese internment camps during WWII. Everyone’s heard of these, but it’s often a footnote in US history. Truly and sincerely, by order executive order of FDR, the War Relocation Authority forcefully imprisoned over a hundred-thousand Japanese-Americans (many of whom were born in the United States) between 1942 and 1944. Adams’ photographs at the camps resulted in a show at NY’s MoMA and in a book called “Born Free and Equal: The Story of Loyal Japanese-Americans.” Believe it or not, this book has been scanned in its entirety and hosted for all to see in the Library of Congress’ free Digital Collection.
Anyone could have taken pictures of this important place and time, but it was important that it was Adams for several reasons. His approach was stylistic, and highly educated visually, but he understood the value of letting the pictures tell the stories and trying to be objective as possible. Also, he was drawn to the way that the people reacted to the harsh atmosphere of the Sierra Nevada range. This interaction between individual and place is essential to the emotional energy of his photography. He’s not a bad writer either.