In 1981 Joan Myers caught a glimpse of some of the architectural remains of Manzanar, a Japanese detention camp in the Mojave desert, while traveling by car through California. She returned home to New Mexico, read and studied about the camps, revisited Manzanar, and between 1982 and 1985 embarked on a calling to visit and photograph the abandoned centers built in early 1942 by the United States’ War Relocation Authority. The camps (in Poston and Gila River, Arizona; Minidoka, Idaho; Amache, Colorado; Heart Mountain, Wyoming; Tule Lake and Manzanar, California; Topaz, Utah; and Jerome and Rohwer, Arkansas) were located in some of the harshest and most desolate areas of the country.
Myers notes in an essay that, “There were ten ‘relocation camps.’ In them, more than 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry, two-thirds of them American citizens, were interred for three years. No attempt was made to identify the potential threat to national security of an eighty-year-old grandmother, a ten-year-old orphan, a pregnant mother, or an immigrant shopkeeper or gardener. All left behind their friends, homes, and possessions for an undeclared period of time and an indefinite future.”
The Smithsonian Institution toured Myers’ photographic series as Whispered Silences: Japanese American Detention Camps between 1996-99, and the University of Washington Press published a book, Whispered Silences: Japanese Americans and World War II, with an essay by Gary Y. Okihiro in 1996, to accompany the exhibition.
Myers’ original platinum-palladium prints with pastel poignantly evoke, as she notes, “the stories hidden in the concrete remains of the camps…” We recently acquired twenty-two images from this series.