Ansel Adams: Born Free and Equal

Ansel Adams

Ansel Adams

For a person like Ansel Adams to come to an internment camp to photograph camp life, where people are pretty bitter for being there, I thought, this man is sympathetic to the situation, to the Japanese American people.
Archie Miyatake, photographer, former internee

On February 19, 1942, U.S. presidential order forcibly removed more than 110,000 persons from their homes to one of ten “war relocation centers” across the country. All were of Japanese ancestry, but two-thirds were American citizens. Ralph Merritt, then director of Manzanar War Relocation Center, asked friend Ansel Adams to photograph the center, set against the remote mountains of California’s Sierra Nevada.

The resulting effort, Born Free and Equal: The Story of Loyal Japanese Americans, written and photographed by Adams, was released in 1944 to the American public as a book and exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Reeling from the impact of the bombing of Pearl Harbor and unable to make the distinction between American citizens of Japanese ancestry and the Japanese enemy of war, Adams’ message was essentially lost on the American public.

In 1965, Adams donated his entire collection of Manzanar photographs to the Library of Congress. Archie Miyatake, interned at Manzanar with his family and father, Los Angeles photographer Toyo Miyatake, wrote the introduction to this new edition. His father smuggled into camp a contraband camera lens and ground glass, making a camera from scraps of wood. Toyo said to his son: “As a photographer I have a responsibility to record life here at this camp so this kind of thing never happens again.”

Compromised and censored, the show goes on . . .
The Institute for Learning Technologies, Teachers College/Columbia University granted Spotted Dog Press permission to link to their site where you can read a review written in 1946 by Museum of Modern Art/New York curator Nancy Newhall detailing the difficulties that Ansel Adams had trying to exhibit his BORN FREE AND EQUAL photographs. Click here to read Nancy Newhall’s review.

Reader comments
“Magnificent! Ansel would have been proud.”
Mary Street Alinder, author, Ansel Adams: A Biography

“There is an invisible clause in the U.S. Constitution that makes its appearance throughout America’s youthful history. “All men are created equal, but . . .” The voice trails off into hollow chambers, embraced by fear and empty of sound reasoning. . . For America’s beloved photographer Ansel Adams, the silence was deafening. . .Spotted Dog Press publisher and editor Wynne Benti knows the tribulations of bringing such a book back, after being out of circulation to much of the nation and virtually unaccepted during its time. . . Adams saw that the people of Manzanar were representative of the best of Americans in the worst of times. . . the story belongs to us all.”
Rafu Shimpo, Los Angeles

“Born Free and Equal is a powerful highly recommended historically factual book, accurately capturing with poetic realism a dark and controversial aspect of America’s World War II history.”
The Midwest Book Review

“I am so proud of this book–something to give my children so they will never forget.”
B.K., Little Tokyo, Los Angeles

“Beautiful book, paper. . .Ansel Adams was a very astute man, but the whole event smacks of wartime censorship to me. . .”
C.L. Alberta, Canada

“Thank you for reprinting this important work.”
Dave Dutton, Dutton’s Books, North Hollywood

“This edition of BORN FREE AND EQUAL gives all of us the opportunity to acknowledge the genius of a sensitive photographer, the integrity of a man who risked his life and career to act on his conscience and principles, and to live as a truly dedicated American should.”
Sue Kunitomi Embrey, Chair Emeritus, Manzanar Committee, Manzanar National Historic Site Advisory Commission