Photographing the Soul, Consoling, Tower at Manzanar


Photographing cemeteries is always a bit tricky.  I am always a bit sad when I do this.  I want to be respectful, and at the same time, fine some beauty in these places.  I have been to numerous Civil War battlefields, like Gettysburg, that are essentially large cemeteries, and Arlington National Cemetery.  Because of its location and the story of Japanese internment, I find the cemetery at Manzanar, very haunting.1812_PSA_Death Valley_417-Edit

We have been to Manzanar a few times.  It is easy to get to if you are on CA Highway 395 in the Eastern Sierra Nevada going to and from Los Angeles and Mammoth Mountain.  It is just outside of Lone Pine, the gateway to the Eastside and to Mount Whitney.

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I think this is an essential stop if you are doing a photo tour of the Eastside.  If you are just going skiing in Mammoth its worth at least one visit.  There is a nice visitor center and a driving tour of the camp.

The monument was created by Ryozo Kado in 1943, who was an internee at the camp. The kanji written on the stone face, I Rei To, means Soul Consoling Tower.

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I will not go into the history here, but I will highly recommend the book, Manzanar by John Armor and Peter Wright, that has “lost” photographs by Ansel Adams with commentary from journalist John Hersey (click here for a link to Amazon).

Because of the orientation of the Eastern Sierras and the cemetery, I recommend that this is a “morning” shoot with the sun behind you.  Its trickier in the afternoon as the sun sets behind the mountains.  I also think if you can be here in the winter and fall, the snow on the mountains is a plus.

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Obviously, if you can be here with interesting skies, even better.  Mary and I also feel that because it is pretty barren, monochrome photos look really good here.  We use infrared converted cameras and process the raw files into black and white images.

People leave prayer ribbons and other mementos on the monument, so make sure you take a closer look.  This is a perfect place for me to be the wide angle photographer and for May to do her close-up work.

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  1. Daniel Leventhal

    Thanks for sharing this. Following up on your post I happened to be visiting friends in San Diego earlier this month who told about a Manzanar exhibit currently on there. Many of the Ansel Adams photos are on view. It closes March 10. At the California Center for the Arts, Escondido, in North San Diego County. “Manzanar: The Wartime Photographs of Ansel Adams & Wendy Maruyama: Executive Order 9066”.

  2. Cormack

    There is another camp in SE Arkansas by Rowher with a cemetery and a few large monuments that have fortunately been preserved. It’s a sad and haunting place, hard to believe that these places existed.

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