Japanese American Internment
Dorothea Lange, San Francisco, California, April 11, 1942, WRA
Dorothea Lange, San Francisco, California, April 11, 1942, WRA

The photographs above appear in my book Discriminating Views: Documentary Photography and Japanese American Internment, scheduled for publication in early Winter of 2015. This new work focuses on photographers hired by the War Relocation Authority (WRA) and shows how their images were shaped by the government’s need to explain and justify the evacuation, confinement and eventual resettlement of over 110,000 Japanese Americans, two thirds of whom were American Citizens. Discriminating Views analyzes the work of Dorothea Lange, Clem Albers, Francis Stewart, Tom Clark, Hikaru Iwasaki and other WRA photographers. The Manzanar photographs of Ansel Adams come in for special consideration. It is my contention that WRA photographs were instruments of propaganda that often reflected the prevailing racial attitudes of the era.

Discrimination drove the resulting narratives. WRA photographers ceased to refer to their subjects as Japanese Americans. They were now uniformly known as “persons of Japanese ancestry.” In effect, these photographs and their captions effectively stripped Nisei of their citizenship and thereby cast doubt upon their loyalty. Once proud individuals, Japanese Americans were consigned to an undifferentiated mass.

Discriminating Views Cover photo
Discriminating Views Cover photo


Discriminating Views is available for sale.

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Author’s statement:

I firmly believe my book speaks to present day concerns about the treatment of ethnic and racial minorities in the United States. The more than seventy documentary photographs in the book offer graphic evidence of the federal government’s attempt to justify the mass incarceration of nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II. Approximately two thirds of the internees were American citizens






Early Praise for Discriminating Views

“To the controversial subject of the forced relocation of Japanese Americans during World War II, historian James C. Curtis brings an astute, experienced eye to the unique photographic archives that chronicle this ordeal. As in his earlier studies of Depression-eras photography, his re-reading of images made famous by photographers like Dorothea Lange and Ansel Adams as well as the lesser known Japanese American Hikaru Iwasaki illuminates the frame of ideology and race that focused their work. The book obliges the reader/viewer to re-think the underlying values of America’s war against fascism.” Peter N. Carroll, author of From Guernica to Human Rights, Essays on the Spanish Civil War.


In its brief history, Discriminating Views has already reached a national audience.

The Museum Store of the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles has recently ordered multiple copies of Discriminating Views to accompany two photographic exhibits that open in late February, one a which focuses on Ansel Adams’s images of Manzanar, a subject that I cover in some detail in the book. The store will continue to carry the book at the end of the exhibits and it will be available in their online catalog. Similar arrangements are in the works with the Museum Stores at two former Internment centers, Heart Mountain in Wyoming and Manzanar in California.

Evacuation

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Internment Camp

Internment Camp
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Cultural Resistance

Cultural Resistance
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