Hirabayashi to Discuss WRA Photos


In his barracks in Heart Mountain, Bill Hosokawa and his wife Alice visit with the members of the WRA appointed personnel on Jan. 9, 1943. (TomParker/The Bancroft Library UC Berkeley)

In his barracks in Heart Mountain, Bill Hosokawa and his wife Alice visit with the members of the WRA appointed personnel on Jan. 9, 1943. (TomParker/The Bancroft Library UC Berkeley)


Professor Lane Ryo Hirabayashi and former War Relocation Authority (WRA) photographer Hikaru Carl Iwasaki will discuss the images and history from the book, Japanese American Resettlement Through The Lens: Hikaru Carl Iwasaki and the WRA’s Photographic Section, 1943-1945, at a public program set for Saturday, Nov. 21, beginning at 2 p.m. at the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo.

Hirabayashi, the George and Sakaye Aratani Professor of the Japanese American Internment, Redress, and Community, part of the Asian American Studies Department at UCLA, co-authored the book with Kenichiro Shimada, a University of Maryland librarian. The book contains over 100 images taken by photographers like Iwasaki for the WRA between 1943 and 1945 with the intent of encouraging Japanese Americans to leave the government-run domestic concentration camps during World War II and disperse into the larger society.

According to Hirabayashi, the book describes “the War Relocation Authority’s use of photography as part and parcel of its primary bureaucratic mission to pressure ‘loyal’ Japanese Americans in its camps to return to the larger society as quickly as possible.” Hirabayashi observes that the WRA photographs “were explicitly created to be used with text in order to garner understanding of and support for the Authority’s resettlement policies.” Those policies included convincing Japanese Americans it was safe to leave camp for other parts of the country where there were few, if any, other Nikkei, and convincing the society as a whole that “loyal” Japanese Americans were no danger to America.

In its efforts to persuade the general public that the return of Japanese Americans would pose no threat, it sent hundreds of its photographs to newspapers and magazines while printing their own brochures and pamphlets as well. Photographs were also sent to the camps to be displayed for the inmates, depicting other Japanese Americans working, attending school or taking part in social activities in places like Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Iowa, Wisconsin, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, and Illinois.

Hirabayashi takes a critical look at the WRA’s efforts, especially in how the photographs were staged. “Because the WRAPS resettlement photos were taken solely of loyal Japanese Americans who were released before the war was over, they do not represent a random sample of-and thus cannot be considered an accurate or complete record of-Japanese Americans’ resettlement experiences between 1942 and 1946, let alone during the long period of readjustment that followed.”

But, Hirabayashi also writes that there remains much untapped value in the photographs, especially those taken by Iwasaki. “There are already clear signs that WRAPS photographs can be appropriated and put to other ends than the WRA had originally intended,” he explains. In the book, a section is devoted to photos taken by Iwasaki of life in the camps. Including art and crafts created by the inmates.  Some of the images show mothers receiving Gold Stars, representing their sons who were killed in action fighting for the U.S. Army. Others depict the inmates’ creating as normal a life as possible behind barbed wire, with social events like dances.

Iwasaki was hired to work for the WRA Photographic Section (WRAPS) out of the Heart Mountain, Wyoming camp in 1943 when he was 19. Born and raised in San Jose, Iwasaki and his family were first sent to Santa Anita racetrack and then to Heart Mountain. Iwasaki had learned photography as a hobby beginning in junior high and contributed to the high school newspaper and yearbook before his forced removal. He relocated to Denver to work for the WRAPS and wound up taking over 1,300 photographs for the project. Iwasaki had a long career as a professional photographer after the war, working for Life Magazine, Sports Illustrated and Time Magazine, among others. He is the only WRAPS photographer still living.

Both Iwasaki and Hirabayashi will discuss these images and more at the public program. They will also be available to sign books, which will be available for sale before and after the program. This program is free to National Museum members or with general admission. For more information, call the Japanese American National Museum at (213) 625-0414, or go to www.janm.org.


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