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Czarno-biała fotografia Azjaty w okularach i garniturze.

“…suffering under a great injustice” | Ansel Adam’s photographs of Japanese-American Internment at Manzanar

Get ready for a treat, because we’re thrilled to invite you to the exhibition of the legendary American photographer, Ansel Adams! From September 1st to 30th, his incredible works will be on display in The Hartwig Alley. And here’s a fun twist: his photo “The Tetons and the Snake River,”  was one of 115 images sent into space aboard the Voyager spacecraft as a message to extraterrestrial life. It’s a must-see! 


Ansel Adams is best known for his landscape photography, particularly his stunning images of national parks.  In 1927, he captured one of his most important pictures, “Monolith, the Face of Half Dome,” in Yosemite National Park. This photograph not only brought him fame but also marked a turning point in his career. Along with 17 other photographs, it was included in his first portfolio album, “Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras”, which was published in the same year. These photographs were used in a campaign to preserve the environment in its natural state, a cause that Adams actively supported. He believed in living in harmony with nature and advocated for the government to protect endangered natural areas from excessive development and tourism. Despite his passion for depicting nature, he faced criticism for allegedly excluding people from his photographs. It was argued that people should take centre stage as the environment belonged to them.

By 1940, he had established himself as a respected fine art photographer, with solo exhibitions in major museums on both the East and West coasts. He was also offered many commercial commissions.

While Ansel Adams was primarily focused on capturing and preserving the beauty of nature, he also directed his attention towards people and their experiences. For instance, he actively promoted the vanishing culture of Native Americans, particularly those living on reservations. The outbreak of World War II alerted him to the injustices suffered by Japanese Americans who were sent to war relocation centers by the U.S. government following the attack on Pearl Harbor.

In 1943, he visited the Manzanar War Relocation Center in California and took photographs of the internees. These photographs were later featured in his photo essay titled “Born Free and Equal: the story of loyal Japanese-Americans”, which was exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art and subsequently published.  He presented a beautiful, but remote and undeveloped region where the mountains served as both a metaphorical fortress and an inspiration for the internees. The Manzanar collection consists of around 200 photographs, presenting the internees and their daily lives, including family life in the barracks, people at work, recreational activities, and sports.

On the occasion of the essay’s publication, Adams wrote, “Through the pictures the reader will be introduced to perhaps twenty individuals . . . loyal American citizens who are anxious to get back into the stream of life and contribute to our victory.”

When offering the collection to the Library of Congress in 1965, Adams said in a letter, “The purpose of my work was to show how these people, suffering under a great injustice, and loss of property, businesses, and professions, had overcome the sense of defeat and dispair [sic] by building for themselves a vital community in an arid (but magnificent) environment….All in all, I think this Manzanar Collection is an important historical document, and I trust it can be put to good use”.

As an apology for the grave injustice done to persons of Japanese ancestry, Congress passed the Civil Liberties Act in 1988. Declaring that the internments were largely motivated “by racial prejudice, wartime hysteria, and a failure of political leadership”, Congress authorised a $20,000 payment to Japanese-Americans who had suffered injustice during World War II.

The photographs are part of the collection “Ansel Adams’s Photographs of Japanese-American Internment at Manzanar”, owned by the Library of Congress.

About the artist

Ansel Adams (1902-1984), a trained pianist, is widely recognised as America’s most famous photographer. His work was characterised by a deep appreciation for nature and a strong desire to preserve its untouched beauty. His work also showed compassion for human suffering. Alongside photographers like Dorothea Lange, Adams pioneered the use of photography as a tool of raising awareness, fighting injustice, and influencing society and politics. Adams favoured “pure” photography based on high contrast, precise exposure, and darkroom techniques. He also experimented and developed the zone system for determining film exposure. While he prioritized the quality of his prints, Adams refrained from hand colouring and created mainly black and white photographs until the end of his life.


When: 1-30 September, outdoor exhibition available at all times
Where: The Hartwig Alley, Kowalska 3
Admission free


01 - 30 September 2023


All Day


Kowalska 3 / The Hartwig Alley
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