22
Mar
14

Exhibition: ‘Manzanar: The Wartime Photographs Of Ansel Adams’ at the Jundt Art Gallery, Gonzaga University, Spokane, WA

Exhibition dates: 4th January – 29th March 2014

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Just a small celebration = this is the 900th posting on Art Blart since it started…

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I sifted through all the photographs of the “war relocation center” (euphemism for concentration camp) named Manzanar that Ansel Adams took – over 220 photographs on the Library of Congress website – to bring you these, the best of the bunch. Adams wasn’t a particularly good documentary photographer and it was a struggle to come up with these images, but sprinkled in with the prosaic are some absolutely stunning landscape and still life images.

What is noteworthy however, is Adams moral stance towards the unlawful incarceration of Japanese Americans, something that went against everything American citizenship is supposed to stand for. In 1944 he published a book called Born Free and Equal which protests the treatment of these American citizens. Through photography and text he showed how they suffered under a great injustice – by portraying “Japanese American internees as loyal Americans going about their lives like regular citizens, not as dangerous aliens.”

As curator Robert Flynn Johnson notes, “Adams saved his harshest attack on their unjust imprisonment for the language of his book… In the text Adams struggled with the argument that the incarceration of these citizens was not just but justified by military necessity. However, he rejected that argument, clearly and forcefully articulating his opposition to the internment. The book was not well received. Adams was called a “Jap lover” and copies of the book were burned. To fully understand the “profiles in Courage” stand Ansel Adams took by publishing Born Free and Equal while the war was still raging, one must understand the emotionally volatile nature of those times in which it was published. Adams’s strong convictions are fully apparent when one reads his forceful words while viewing his beautiful photographic imagery…”

Can you imagine what courage it must have taken to publish a book in the middle of the Second World War – with all that was going on with America and the war in the Pacific against Japan – titled Born Free and Equal, a book that lays bare the hypocrisy of democracy as only contingent on those in power. This man and his supporters have my utmost admiration. In Australia it’s a pity – no, it’s shameful – that those elected people on both sides of major politics do not possess similar fortitude. The guts to stand up for justice and freedom against the evils of incarceration and oppression when they see it staring them in the face.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

PS. What is also interesting is how Adams laid out this work for exhibition in the camp itself. The size of the prints, how they are displayed both vertically and horizontally, and how they move up and down and are not hung ‘on the line’ – plus the artefacts they are also displayed with. Fascinating stuff.

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These photographs were sourced from the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog of the Library of Congress. The online archive contains all of Ansel Adams photographs of Manzanar War Relocation Center to download in high resolution, with no known restrictions on publication. Please note: publication of these images in the posting does NOT mean that these images are in the exhibition.

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Foreword to Born Free and Equal

“Moved by the human story unfolding in the encirclement of desert and mountains, and by the wish to identify my photography in some creative way with the tragic momentum of the times, I came to Manzanar with my cameras in the fall of 1943. For many years, I have photographed the Sierra Nevada, striving to reveal by the clear statement of the lens those qualities of the natural scene which claim the emotional and spiritual response of the people. In these years of strain and sorrow, the grandeur, beauty, and quietness of the mountains are more important to us than ever before. I have tried to record the influence of the tremendous landscape of Inyo on the life and spirit of thousands of people living by force of circumstance in the Relocation Center of Manzanar. …

I believe that the acrid splendor of the desert, ringed with towering mountains, has strengthened the spirit of the people of Manzanar. I do not say all are conscious of this influence, but I am sure most have responded, in one way or another, to the resonances of their environment. From the harsh soil they have extracted fine crops; they have made gardens glow in the firebreaks and between the barracks. Out of the jostling, dusty confusion of the first bleak days in raw barracks they have modulated to a democratic internal society and a praiseworthy personal adjustment to conditions beyond their control. The huge vistas and the stern realities of sun and wind and space symbolize the immensity and opportunity of America – perhaps a vital reassurance following the experience of enforced exodus. …

I trust the content and message of this book will suggest that the broad concepts of American citizenship, and of liberal, democratic life the world over, must be protected in the prosecution of the war, and sustained in the building of the peace to come.”

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Ansel Adams, Foreword to Born Free and Equal, 1944

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Library of Congress text

Well-known fine art and landscape photographer, Ansel Adams, took on several war-related assignments. When offering the Manzanar photos to the Library in 1965, Adams wrote in an accompanying letter, “The purpose of my work was to show how these people, suffering under a great injustice … had overcome the sense of defeat and dispair [sic] by building for themselves a vital community in an arid (but magnificent) environment.”

Summary: Photographs document the lives of Japanese Americans interned during World War II at the Manzanar Relocation Center, in Inyo County, California. There are numerous close-up and occupational portraits of individuals, including Roy Takeno, editor of the Manzanar Free Press, and photographer Tōyō Miyatake. Group portraits include families, women and children. Other photographs show people posed in their living quarters and engaged in indoor daily life such as shopping, religious services, health care, and education; more informal views portray outdoor agricultural scenes and sports and leisure activities. Landscape views feature the background mountains and desert as well as camp facilities and buildings.

Text from the Library of Congress website

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Birds on wire, evening, Manzanar Relocation Center' 1943

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Birds on wire, evening, Manzanar Relocation Center
1943
Silver gelatin print

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'C.T. Hibino, artist, Manzanar Relocation Center' 1943

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
C.T. Hibino, artist, Manzanar Relocation Center
1943
Silver gelatin print

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Frank Hirosama [i.e., Hirosawa] in laboratory, Manzanar Relocation Center' 1943

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Frank Hirosama [i.e., Hirosawa] in laboratory, Manzanar Relocation Center
1943
Silver gelatin print

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Manzanar street scene, spring, Manzanar Relocation Center' 1943

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Manzanar street scene, spring, Manzanar Relocation Center
1943
Silver gelatin print

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“… that all Japanese, whether citizens or not, be placed in inland concentration camps. As justification for this, I submit that if an American born Japanese, who is a citizen, is really patriotic and wishes to make his contribution to the safety and welfare of this country, right here is his opportunity to do so, namely, by permitting himself to be placed in a concentration camp, he would be making his sacrifice. … Millions of other native-born citizens are willing to lay down their lives, which is a far greater sacrifice, of course, than being placed in a concentration camp.”

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Secretary of War Henry Stinson, January 16, 1942

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“The Jundt Art Museum will display Manzanar: The Wartime Photographs of Ansel Adams in the Jundt Galleries Jan. 4 through March 29. The exhibition features 50 of the renowned photographer’s images of the Japanese-American relocation camp in Manzanar, Calif. during World War II. The photographs are included in the controversial book Born Free and Equal, which protests the treatment of these American citizens. The book was published in 1944 while the war was in progress. Also included in the exhibition are various photographs, documents and other works of art that further contextualize the images. Robert Flynn Johnson, curator emeritus for the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, curated the exhibition.

Born in San Francisco, Adams was a visionary in nature photography and wilderness preservation. He has become an environmental folk hero for his work in conservation as well as a symbol of the American West, particularly for his photographs of Yosemite National Park. Adams’ Manzanar work is a departure from his signature style of landscape photography. Most of the Manzanar photographs are portraits, views of daily life, agricultural scenes, and sports and leisure activities. The Ansel Adams photographs taken between 1943-1944 are prints made from the original negatives in the Library of Congress. They were previously exhibited in the exhibition, Born Free and Equal: An Exhibition of Ansel Adams Photographs, organized by the Fresno Metropolitan Museum of Art, History and Science in 1984.

Robert Flynn Johnson, Curator Emeritus, Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, in his essay for the exhibition writes, “This exhibition recounts one of the darkest moments in the history of the United States, one that the distinguished author John hersey referred to as ‘a mistake of terrifyingly horrible proportions.’ It is a story of ignorance and prejudice, but also a story of perseverance and nobility. What happened should never be forgotten so that it should never happen again.” Johnson continues, “This is not only an art exhibition, a history lesson, or a study in race relations; it is all three. My hope is that it educates us about an unfortunate moment in our country’s history that must be better understood. It also should serve as a warning as to what can occur when emotion and fear overwhelm clarity and courage.”

Also included in the exhibition is a first edition copy of Adams’s 1944 book, Born Free and Equal; a vintage gelatin silver print by Adams titled A Photograph of Yosemite, c. 1938; three reproductions of Dorothea Lange photographing Japanese-Americans being evacuated; a watercolor painting of a camp by an internee; an original 1942 poster of the Civilian Exclusion Order that announced that Japanese-Americans were to be rounded up for imprisonment; seven original magazine covers and a poster that documents the virulent anti-Japanese attitudes present at the time; a watercolor by Henry Minakata of one of the Relocation Camps; and three original drawings by the famous artist Chiura Obata, who was imprisoned in the Topaz Camp. The exhibition, which will tour museums in the United States over the next few years, was organized by Photographic Traveling Exhibitions of Los Angeles.”

Press release from the Jundt Art Gallery website

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Benji Iguchi driving tractor in field, Manzanar Relocation Center' 1943

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Benji Iguchi driving tractor in field, Manzanar Relocation Center
1943
Silver gelatin print

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Manzanar from guard tower, summer heat, view SW, Manzanar Relocation Center' 1943

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Manzanar from guard tower, summer heat, view SW, Manzanar Relocation Center
1943
Silver gelatin print

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Manzanar from Guard Tower, view west (Sierra Nevada in background), Manzanar Relocation Center' 1943

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Manzanar from Guard Tower, view west (Sierra Nevada in background), Manzanar Relocation Center
1943
Silver gelatin print

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“The first morning in Manzanar when I woke up and saw what Manzanar looked like, I just cried. And then I saw the high Sierra mountain, just like my native country’s mountain, and I just cried, that’s all.” Haruko Niwa, interned at Manzanar from 1942 until 1945.

Ten war relocation centers were built in remote deserts, plains, and swamps of seven states; Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming. Manzanar, located in the Owens Valley of California between the Sierra Nevada on the west and the Inyo mountains on the east, was typical in many ways of the 10 camps. About two-thirds of all Japanese Americans interned at Manzanar were American citizens by birth. The remainder were aliens, many of whom had lived in the United States for decades, but who, by law, were denied citizenship.

The first Japanese Americans to arrive at Manzanar, in March 1942, were men and women who volunteered to help build the camp. On June 1 the War Relocation Authority (WRA) took over operation of Manzanar from the U.S. Army. The 500-acre housing section was surrounded by barbed wire and eight guard towers with searchlights and patrolled by military police. Outside the fence, military police housing, a reservoir, a sewage treatment plant, and agricultural fields occupied the remaining 5,500 acres. By September 1942 more than 10,000 Japanese Americans were crowded into 504 barracks organized into 36 blocks. There was little or no privacy in the barracks – and not much outside. The 200 to 400 people living in each block, consisting of 14 barracks each divided into four rooms, shared men’s and women’s toilets and showers, a laundry room, and a mess hall. Any combination of eight individuals was allotted a 20-by-25-foot room. An oil stove, a single hanging light bulb, cots, blankets, and mattresses filled with straw were the only furnishings provided.

Coming from Los Angeles and other communities in California and Washington, Manzanar’s internees were unaccustomed to the harsh desert environment. Summer temperatures soared as high as 110ºF. In winter, temperatures frequently plunged below freezing. Throughout the year strong winds swept through the valley, often blanketing the camp with dust and sand. Internees covered knotholes in the floors with tin can lids, but dust continued to blow in between the floorboards until linoleum was installed in late 1942…

Two thirds of the Japanese Americans interned at Manzanar were under the age of 18. 541 babies were born at Manzanar. A total of 11,070 Japanese Americans were processed through Manzanar. From a peak of 10,046 in September 1942, the population dwindled to 6,000 by 1944. The last few hundred internees left in November 1945, three months after the war ended. Many of them had spent three-and-a-half years at Manzanar.”

Anon. “Japanese Americans at Manzanar,” on the Manzanar National Historic Site (U. S. National Park Service) website [Online] Cited 08/03/2014

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Manzanar street scene, clouds, Manzanar Relocation Center' 1943

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Manzanar street scene, clouds, Manzanar Relocation Center
1943
Silver gelatin print

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Manzanar street scene, winter, Manzanar Relocation Center' 1943

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Manzanar street scene, winter, Manzanar Relocation Center
1943
Silver gelatin print

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'View south from Manzanar to Alabama Hills, Manzanar Relocation Center' 1943

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
View south from Manzanar to Alabama Hills, Manzanar Relocation Center
1943
Silver gelatin print

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'View SW over Manzanar, dust storm, Manzanar Relocation Center' 1943

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
View SW over Manzanar, dust storm, Manzanar Relocation Center
1943
Silver gelatin print

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“This exhibition recounts one of the darkest moments in the history of the United States, one that the distinguished author John Hersey referred to as “a mistake of terrifyingly horrible proportions.”1 It is a story of ignorance and prejudice, but it is also a story of perseverance and nobility. What happened should never be forgotten so that it should never happen again.

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Background

In the aftermath of the Japanese surprise attack on pearl Harbor and the subsequent declaration of war by the United States, a wave of fear and paranoia swept the western United States and the Hawaiian Islands. Anxiety over possible invasion by Japanese forces or sabotage by fifth columnist Japanese and Japanese Americans living amongst the general American population overrode common sense in Government circles. Despite the protestations of Attorney General Francis Biddle, Interior Secretary Harold Ickes, and even F.B.I. Director J. Edgar Hoover.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in the most unfortunate act of an otherwise admirable presidency, allowed public opinion and biased, racist attitudes of elements within the U.S. Army to induce him into issuing on February 19, 1942, Executive Order 9066: the forced evacuation of persons of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast. This evacuation was done despite the fact that the F.B.I. had, within three days of pearl Harbor, rounded up and arrested 857 Germans, 147 Italians, and 1,291 Japanese (367 in Hawaii and 924 on the mainland) for subversive activities. The government did not inter Germans, Italians, nor, with few exceptions, Japanese residing in Hawaii. Instead they rounded up Japanese and Japanese Americans residing in the western United States. In the end, these individuals were interred in ten camps spread over underpopulated areas of the West and in Arkansas in the Midwest…

The act of rounding up civilians and imprisoning them in camps had occurred in earlier centuries. The term “concentration camp” was first used to describe the actions of the British against the Boers during the Second Boer War (1899-1902), but today it is indistinguishable from the horrors of the extermination camps perpetrated by the Nazis against Jews, Russians, and other victims of the Reich in World War II. American authorities euphemistically labeled the Japanese internments as “war relocation centers,” but given the harsh conditions Japanese Americans suffered, a more appropriate term might be war relocation “camps.”

Mine Okubo describes the conditions: “The camps represented a prison: no freedom, no privacy, no America. Internment camps were also guarded by U.S. military personnel and had a barbed wire perimeter.”2

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Manzanar

The brilliant social activist photographer Dorothea Lange (1895-1965) was hired by the U.S. government in the spring of 1942 to document this forced relocation. Her assignment included the camp at Manzanar, located in the remote Owens Valley in the northern reaches of Death Valley, California. However, when her photographs were submitted, they were viewed with alarm for showing the government in a bad light; the decision was made to impound (censor) her images until the end of the war.

It was only in 1943 that Ralph Merritt, the enlightened second director at Manzanar, invited his old friend Ansel Adams to come and photograph there. By that time, the internees had settled into their lives there coping as best they could. In 1942 a confrontation with camp guards had led to shots being fired, resulting in the deaths of two internees and the wounding of nine. There were no further incidents. Some historians have criticized Adams’s photographs, comparing them to the more politicized imagery of Lange. Linda Gordon wrote,

“Ansel Adams photographed at Manzanar a year after Lange did, producing work that, by contrast, reveals much about Lange’s perspective. He tried to walk a cramped line, opposing anti-Asian racism, but avoiding identification with the opposition to the internment. Adams’s pictures, primarily portraits – surprisingly for a landscape photographer – emphasized the internees’ stoic, polite, even cheerful making the best of it. His subjects were almost exclusively happy, smiling. His goal was to establish the internees as unthreatening, Americanized, open – scrutable rather than inscrutable. By making mainly individual portraits, he masked collective racial discrimination. The resultant hiding of the internment’s violation of human rights was not an unintended consequence of this goal, but an expression of Adams’s patriotism.”3

There is no question that Lange was the stronger documentary photographer. However, Adams was working out of his comfort zone as a landscape photographer and his point was not to use his images to indict the authorities. Instead, he wished to portray the Japanese American internees as loyal Americans going about their lives like regular citizens, not as dangerous aliens. Adams saved his harshest attack on their unjust imprisonment for the language of his book, Born Free and Equal, published the following year, 1944.

In the text Adams struggled with the argument that the incarceration of these citizens was not just but justified by military necessity. However, he rejected that argument, clearly and forcefully articulating his opposition to the internment. The book was not well received. Adams was called a “Jap lover” and copies of the book were burned. To fully understand the “profiles in Courage” stand Ansel Adams took by publishing Born Free and Equal while the war was still raging, one must understand the emotionally volatile nature of those times in which it was published. Adams’s strong convictions are fully apparent when one reads his forceful words while viewing his beautiful photographic imagery…

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Conclusion

This is not only an art exhibition, a history lesson, or a study in race relations; it is all three. My hope is that it educates us about an unfortunate moment in our country’s history that must be better understood and should serve as a warning against allowing emotion, prejudice and fear to overwhelm clarity and courage. Harold L. Ickes, the Secretary of the Interior, in his 1944 foreword to Born Free and Equal sums up the essence of this human drama,

“It has long been my belief that the greatness of America has arisen in large part out of the diversity of her peoples. Before the war, peoples of Japanese ancestry were a small but valuable element in our population. Their record of law-abiding, industrious citizenship was surpassed by no other group. Their contributions to the arts, agriculture, and science were indisputable evidence that the majority of them believed in America and were growing with America.

Then war came with the nation of their parental origin. The ensuing two and a half years have brought heartaches to many in our population. Among the causalities of war has been America’s Japanese minority. It is my hope that the wounds which it has received in the great uprooting will heal. It is my prayer that other Americans will fully realize that to condone the whittling away of the rights of any one minority group is to pave the way for us all to lose the guarantees of the Constitution.”4

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Robert Flynn Johnson
Curator Emeritus
Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

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1. John Hersey, “A Mistake of Terrifically Horrible proportions,” in Manzanar, by John Armor and peter Wright (New York Times Books, 1988)
2. Sara Ann McGill, “Internment of Japanese Americans,” http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/ (accessed May 3, 2010)
3. Linda Gordon and Gary Y. Okihiro, ed., Impounded: Dorothea Lange and the Censored Images of Japanese American Internment (New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 2006), 34
4. Ansel Adams, Born Free and Equal: The Story of Loyal Japanese-Americans (New York: U.S. Camera, 1944), 7

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Pictures and mementoes on phonograph top - Yonemitsu home, Manzanar Relocation Center' 1943

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Pictures and mementoes on phonograph top – Yonemitsu home, Manzanar Relocation Center
1943
Silver gelatin print

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Roy Takeno's desk, Manzanar Relocation Center' 1943

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Roy Takeno’s desk, Manzanar Relocation Center
1943
Silver gelatin print

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Manzanar museum (Ansel Adams exhibit), Manzanar Relocation Center' 1943

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Manzanar museum (Ansel Adams exhibit), Manzanar Relocation Center
1943
Silver gelatin print

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) 'Line crew at work in Manzanar, Manzanar Relocation Center' 1943

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Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
Line crew at work in Manzanar, Manzanar Relocation Center
1943
Silver gelatin print

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Jundt Art Gallery
502 East Boone Avenue
Spokane, WA 99258-0001
This is the main address for Gonzaga University

Opening hours:
Monday – Saturday 10am – 4pm

Jundt Art Gallery website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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