I’m a library grazer. Yep, I confess it. Each time I visit my local public library I can’t help but shop the shelves for all the new arrivals in all genres–even the entertainment ones that often astonish me with their very existence. The downside of this book/dvd/cd grazing is that it about triples the time I spend in the library’s physical location. It also generally about triples the number of items I haul to the self check out computer and from there to the ever overflowing parlor couch where they get to catch their breath. One of the items my grazing discovered was this book of photographs from one of America’s dark actions against its own people–Japanese Americans. (Btw, there was talk of rounding up German Americans too, but that never got going. Don’t believe that? Check out the holdings at the National Archives, KCMO–oh yeah.) Not only were people forced into camps but their personal property was confiscated and they lost everything–for nothing. Is this bit of American history more than a tad disconcerting? It should be considering all the lip service paid to “human rights.” The Native Americans had/have prisons without walls via the reservations. Japanese Americans had prisons with barbed wire. As I viewed Bill Manbo’s photographs I was struck again and again at the incongruity of everything in them about people trying to maintain some sense of normalcy in a decidedly NOT normal situation–a downright irrational situation to my thinking. Usually prison/confinement is the end result of doing something “wrong”–illegal–criminal. But these families had done nothing at all — except be Japanese Americans. There’s definitely something askew in thinking that leads to such treatment of people innocent of any wrongdoing. I wonder about the American population at large that was aware of people being taken from their communities and yet allowing it, accepting it, agreeing to it. And I wonder if our current prison system is just another sign of this confining mentality. Maybe it is. Or it’s something even darker? At any rate, here is one man’s photographic record of history which shames the Americans who created and implemented this action. It also shames all those who knew it was wrong and watched it happen in silence.
Much thanks to the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University for this Vimeo film featuring Bill Manbo’s photographs.
Colors of Confinement, Rare Kodachrome Photographs of Japanese American Incarceration in World War II, Editor Eric L. Muller with photographs by Bill Manbo. Published by the University of North Carolina in association with the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, 2012.