Item #7316 War Relocation Center, Manzanar California.

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War Relocation Center, Manzanar California.

[Manzanar, California]: Manzanar Cooperative Enterprises, Inc. [Toyo Miyatake?], [ca. April 1943–November 1945]. Panoramic photograph, 8.75” x 33.5”, plus margins. CONDITION: Very good, a few light stains and minor creases at margins.

A striking panoramic photograph of the Japanese-American incarceration camp at Manzanar, California, possibly printed by famed photographer Toyo Miyatake while imprisoned there.

Manzanar Center in Inyo County, California was one of ten Japanese incarceration camps in the U.S. during World War II, operating from March 1942 to November 1945. This photograph was likely taken by a visiting photographer from a tower along the outer boundaries of the camp (a small portion of the tower railing is visible in the lower-left corner). The image pictures the large, sprawling camp and its rows of buildings and residences where over 120,000 Japanese-Americans were incarcerated. A few residents and vehicles can be seen, and visible outside many buildings are gardens and laundry hung out to dry. The Sierra Nevada range serves as a dramatic backdrop.

The photograph appears to have been commissioned by Manzanar Cooperative Enterprises, Inc. (whose copyright appears in the lower left corner), a prisoner-run co-op established in accordance with a 1943 agreement with the War Relocation Authority. The National Park Service provides a good note on the photo studio operated by the co-op:

In April 1943, a photo studio was opened in the ironing room of Block 30. All types of photographs were desired by the evacuees, and commercial photographers seldom came to the camp. Cameras were not allowed in the hands of the evacuees at Manzanar except toward the end of the camp’s existence. Thus, the Cooperative established a photo studio to centralize photographic services. It became necessary to pro-rate the appointments among the blocks so that all persons would have an opportunity to have photographs taken. The charges were nominal and the service provided by Toyo Miyatake, who had operated a photographic studio in Los Angeles prior to evacuation, was considered ‘excellent.’ The studio performed all the work for the school annuals as well as a considerable amount for WRA administrators.

Toyo Miyatake (1895–1979) is best known for his portraits of inmates at Manzanar and his collaboration with Ansel Adams, whose acquaintance he made when Adams visited and photographed the camp. (A photograph taken by Adams from the same tower as the present photo can be viewed on the Library of Congress website). Before World War II, Miyatake was a successful commercial photographer in Los Angeles. While cameras were banned at Japanese incarceration camps, Miyatake managed to smuggle a lens and film holder into Manzanar and built a makeshift camera disguised as a lunch box. Eventually, Project Director Ralph Merritt discovered that Miyatake was photographing the camp but allowed him to continue. Miyatake produced some 1500 images during the three years he spent at Manzanar. Given his association with the co-op, it seems likely that he would have been involved in the creation of this photograph.

A scarce and arresting photograph of Manzanar with intriguing connections and parallels involving Toyo Miyatake and Ansel Adams.

REFERENCES: Manzanar Cooperative Enterprises, Inc. at; Toyo Miyatake By Ansel Adams 1943 at

Item #7316


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