Exhibition Review: ICP - Then They Came For Me

Exhibition Review: ICP - Then They Came For Me

 Dorothea Lange, Woodland, California, May 20, 1942. Courtesy National Archives and Records Administration

Dorothea Lange, Woodland, California, May 20, 1942. Courtesy National Archives and Records Administration

Review by: Billy Anania

Recent travel bans and refugee crises have sparked social and artistic revolutions all over the world. The International Center of Photography has responded to these events by providing some historical context.

Then They Came for Me: Incarceration of Japanese Americans During World War II explores another era of increased national security in U.S. history. In February 1942–just a few months after the Pearl Harbor attack–President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order to remove and imprison approximately 120,000 Japanese citizens and immigrants from the West Coast.

 Ansel Adams, Owens Valley, California, 1943. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Ansel Adams, Owens Valley, California, 1943. Courtesy Library of Congress.

What followed was a period of widespread eviction and incarceration. Travelers and permanent residents were transported to long-term prisons as a result of the American government’s racial profiling system. Photographers like Dorothea Lange, Ansel Adams and Toyo Miyatake (who was himself incarcerated) documented the events, revealing how a whole generation of Japanese Americans was displaced through essentialism and xenophobia.

 Dorothea Lange, Turlock, California, May 2, 1942. Courtesy National Archives and Records Administration

Dorothea Lange, Turlock, California, May 2, 1942. Courtesy National Archives and Records Administration

The exhibition includes portraits of families, laborers and prison guards alongside topical pamphlets, newspapers and mementos. Photographs of camp closings and resettlements are placed at the end of the exhibition alongside an apology letter signed by President George H.W. Bush in October 1990. Each photo conveys a muted sense of unrest, as Japanese immigrants were forced to adjust to new conceptions of American life.

 Toyo Miyatake, Hand and Barbed Wire, ca. 1944. Courtesy Toyo Miyatake Studio.

Toyo Miyatake, Hand and Barbed Wire, ca. 1944. Courtesy Toyo Miyatake Studio.

Then They Came for Me provides a comprehensive view into the imprisonment of innocent people through vernacular photography and landscapes. The photographers reveal the inherent grace and resilience of their subjects, who were forced to uphold their normal lives under the watchful eye of the American government.

For more information, visit www.icp.org.

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