San Francisco, California, United States (Place Created)
negative April 20, 1942; print about 1960s
Gelatin silver print
34 × 25.6 cm (13 3/8 × 10 1/16 in.)
(Verso) lower center, wet stamp in black ink: "PHOTOGRAPHY BY/ DOROTHEA LANGE/ 1163 EUCLID AVENUE/ BERKELEY/ CALIFORNIA"
As far as Dorothea Lange was concerned, her assignment from the government to document the evacuation of Japanese Americans included picturing their lives in the San Francisco area before and after being interned. She made this image at a public school in April, days before citizens like the girl in the center and her family were given numbers and transported to concentration camps for the remainder of World War II. Three of the ten locations established were in California. One of these, called Manzanar, was built in the Owens Valley on land leased to the federal government by the city of Los Angeles. Formerly fertile orchard country, the area had become a desert region since its water had been diverted to L.A. A sociological study published by the University of California in 1946, The Spoilage (Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement, vol. 1), quoted one internee's description of his new environment: "The desert was bad enough. The mushroom barracks made it worse. The constant cyclonic storms loaded with sand and dust made it worst. After living in well furnished homes with every modern convenience and suddenly forced to live the life of a dog is something which one cannot so readily forget."
The purpose of Lange's War Relocation Authority assignment was the complete antithesis of her earlier Farm Security Administration work; rather than using these photographs for propaganda, the government intended them to be locked away as documentary evidence. Perhaps this kept the subject from becoming part of the leftist agenda that was so concerned about fascism in Europe. Somehow the imprisonment in this country of more than a hundred thousand people because of their ancestry was overlooked. The photographs eventually came to reside in the National Archives in Washington, D.C., and are now also available at the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley.