When comparing Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange’s photographs of the US Japanese Internment camps, I am left with two completely different readings of this era and life of the involved people. Adams portrays the Japanese people going about their daily lives as if there is nothing abnormal about their situation. It seems like Adams is attempting to say that these people ARE American and have in a way acclimated to American culture. This can be seen in the photographs of the baseball game and the woman in front of her “suburban”-esque house with her children. Showing Japanese playing an all-American sport and living in all-American houses could sway the public to believe that these people are not enemies of the state because of their cultural heritage. And for the the purposes to humanize and Americanize Japanese descendants, Adams succeeds.
However, Lange provides a completely different view, instead focusing on the displacement and imprisonment of American citizens as dehumanizing and brutal process. These Japanese people are not only American people like Adams proposes, but are Americans who are being denied basic human rights, reminiscent of Nazi concentration camps. Lange photographs evacuating families, dilapidated and shoddy housing situations, and people being herded into the camp, which used to be a horse race track at the base of the Sierra mountains. Lange takes interest in the individuals, choosing to photographs individual grief and despair, while Adam’s interest as a landscape photographer lies in the bigger picture.
Both Adams and Lange’s photographs are stunning in composition and form and I enjoy viewing them, however conscious of the historical context. Because of that context, I am pushed towards Lange’s more “realistic” portrayal of the event as a huge displacement of people deemed guilty of treason merely because of their Japanese heritage. Yet, Adams allows me to see the endurance and adaptation of these people, maintaining their American values despite being betrayed by the country to which they belong.
For that, I feel better about still liking Adams.