Dorothea Lange’s Censored Photographs of FDR’s Japanese Concentration Camps

The military seized her photographs, quietly depositing them in the National Archives, where they remained mostly unseen and unpublished until 2006

 Dorothea Lange—well known for her FSA photographs like Migrant Mother—was hired by the U.S. government to make a photographic record of the “evacuation” and “relocation” of Japanese-Americans in 1942. She was eager to take the commission, despite being opposed to the effort, as she believed “a true record of the evacuation would be valuable in the future.”

The military commanders that reviewed her work realized that Lange’s contrary point of view was evident through her photographs, and seized them for the duration of World War II, even writing “Impounded” across some of the prints. The photos were quietly deposited into the National Archives, where they remained largely unseen until 2006.

I wrote more about the history of Lange’s photos and President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 initiating the Japanese Internment in another post on the Anchor Editions Blog.

Below, I’ve selected some of Lange’s photos from the National Archives—including the captions she wrote—pairing them with quotes from people who were imprisoned in the camps, as quoted in the excellent book, Impounded: Dorothea Lange and the Censored Images of Japanese American Internment.

I’ve also made a limited number of prints of her photos available for sale at Anchor Editions, and I’m donating 50% of the proceeds to two organizations fighting to protect immigrants: the NILC and the ACLU. Their fight seems especially important today given the current tide of anti-immigrant rhetoric, Muslim immigration bans, and the United States terminating DACA, which—if Congress does not pass the Dream Act—means 800,000 immigrants could lose their protected status.

This photo essay was originally published on December 7, 2016, the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. We’ve updated it this year, as the organizations we’re supporting continue to need your help. This month, print sale proceeds going to the NILC will be matched dollar-for-dollar by other NILC donors, so the NILC will get 100% of the value of any prints you order in December!

“A photographic record could protect against false allegations of mistreatment and violations of international law, but it carried the risk, of course, of documenting actual mistreatment.”

— Linda Gordon, Impounded: Dorothea Lange and the Censored Images of Japanese American Internment

“We couldn’t do anything about the orders from the U.S. government. I just lived from day to day without any purpose. I felt empty.… I frittered away every day. I don’t remember anything much.… I just felt vacant.”

— Osuke Takizawa, Tanforan Assembly Center, San Bruno

“We went down Pine Street down to Fillmore to the number 22 streetcar, and he took the 22 streetcar and went to the SP (Southern Pacific) and took the train to San Jose. And that was the last time I saw him.”

— Donald Nakahata, describing when his father, a journalist, left San Francisco to help Japanese Americans in San Jose on December 8, 1941

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