Travel Blog

28 Apr

Rare Ansel Adams Photos of Wartime Internment Camps Now in Vancouver


Ansel Adams, “Baseball game,” Manzanar Relocation Center, 1943. (Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)

On Feb 24, 1942, a few months after Pearl Harbor, a new provision of the War Measures Act passed, giving the Canadian government power to intern all “persons of Japanese racial origin.” So began the sad chapter of Canadian history in which some 22,000 Japanese-Canadians were uprooted and placed in internment camps throughout the country – a policy that didn’t end completely until 1949.

A new exhibit at Vancouver’s Pendulum Gallery shines a new spotlight on that era, with vintage photos from legendary landscape photographer Ansel Adams and local photographer Leonard Frank.  Together, the collection offers two very distinct perspectives on internment in Canada and the U.S.

Angered by the U.S. government’s own policy of Japanese internment, Ansel Adams set off to document the injustices of the practice.  From 1943-1944, he made multiple trips at his own expense to the Manzanar War Relocation Center in California.

The images he captured reveal the stark existence and resilience of the 10,000 Japanese-Americans incarcerated there.  While emphasizing the sense of isolation and confinement, Adams also shows desert transformed to farmland and thriving schools and community businesses.

Meanwhile in Canada, photographer Leonard Frank accepted an official government contract to document the forced relocation of Japanese-Canadians in British Columbia.  A protected 100-mile-wide strip had been set up along the Pacific Coast, and all Japanese men from the ages of 14-45 were removed to camps in the B.C. interior, often with families in tow.

Leonard Frank, Building K, men's dormitory (formerly the Forum), Hastings Park, Vancouver, British Columbia, 1942. (Eastwood Collection)

Leonard Frank, “Building K, men’s dormitory (formerly the Forum),” Hastings Park, Vancouver, British Columbia, 1942. (Eastwood Collection)

Frank received full access to document Hastings Park in Vancouver, a collection of agricultural and commercial buildings that served as a holding area for people who had been evicted from homes and were soon to be interned.  Though conditions were notoriously bad – with horse stalls serving as bunk rooms – Frank’s photos from this period feel dispassionate and removed, as might be expected of work from an official government photographer.

But Frank’s photography would evolve.  He was later given access to internment camps across British Columbia, as well as in Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario.  Through countless images – many of impersonal, repurposed spaces, devoid of people – Frank called attention to the dehumanizing effects of internment.  Originally intended as formal documentation, his photos became a critique in their own right of society and prevailing practices.



Ansel Adams, “Entrance to Manzanar,” Manzanar Relocation Center, 1943. (Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)

Ansel Adams and Leonard Frank: Two Views is on display through May 3 at Vancouver’s Pendulum Gallery, situated in the seven-storey glass atrium of downtown’s HSBC Building at 885 W. Georgia St.  Admission is free.

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