The internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II is a shameful chapter in the history of this nation, yet it remains a sad fact, proving once again that war and fear can compel people to injudicious acts they might never otherwise consider.
In the pages of this collection complete with the original captions by Dorothea Lange, the photographer renders a visual history of life in the camps, the confused and questioning faces of Japanese-Americans whose lives were turned upside-down, their lands forfeit because of their heritage, the color of their skin and the shape of their eyes.
Although the text is informative, the images speak for themselves. Page after page in stark black and white, the young and innocent, the old and careworn carry rope-bound suitcases and cardboard boxes, waiting in endless lines to be processed by indifferent jailors, an entire race herded into the camps that will be home for the war years, disenfranchised of investment in community and the pride of being Americans.
Whole generations gather in these telling photographs, leaving treasured belongings behind. From grandparents to infants, all are swept up in an infamous display of mistrust in a country suddenly driven to panic: children with ID tags attached to their coats, chain link fences topped with barbed wire circling the arid landscape, family laundry hanging from a window, the barren rows of housing units assailed by constant dust storms, women working on camouflage nets for the War Department.
The most striking feature of the collection is the very American look of these people, standing proud while saluting the flag, teenagers trying to act cool in spite of their surroundings, family gatherings that are familiar Americana.
Famous for her Depression-era photos of migrant farm workers, this series of Dorothea Lange’s photographs was censored for the duration of the War. It is also important to mention that, in spite of the extreme measures undertaken, “no Japanese-American was ever found guilty of espionage.”
Two essays precede the photographs, enhancing the graphic collection: Linda Gordon’s biographical essay on Lange’s life and work, and Gary Okihiro’s “An American Story” of Japanese immigration to America and the history of Japanese internment, with personal anecdotes by detainees. A moving portrait of a country’s response to threat, Impounded reminds us of what happens when fear defeats the very tenets of freedom.