manzanar - matt maier


Posted on 14 Jun ’10

I visited Manzanar for the first time a few weeks ago. While I am positive that I learned about Manzanar in school; how could such a thing not be covered? Alas, I could not recall any particulars surrounding this nor any of the other camps. “Camps” really is not the right word for what these facilities were; the word “camp” insinuates a much more positive sentiment than was the reality. The place, the location, the exhibits, the historical film — all served to have a profound impact on me.

I was sad, troubled and angry. I can’t possibly imagine what the people who endured Manzanar nor any of the other nine such facilities must have felt or thought. I was not alive during this time nor am I a Japanese American – I am incapable of relating to either side. I only have the aid of 20/20 hindsight which is not the best vantage point from which to gain true understanding. Can any of us who were not participants really understand what transpired. What it must have been like to experience fear at such a level. As such, all I had was how I “felt” at learning, seeing and experiencing the place as it is in its current state. My opinions and impressions are biased for better or worse by my direct experiences while at the site; what I was able to read and touch; what I was able to see and hear.

A searing sun in the summer, a bitter cold in the winter, and an unrelenting wind all year. Dust…land turned from fertile orchards and ranches to a desolate, arid valley wedged between Death Valley and the Sierra Nevada mountains. People were relocated without many of their possessions; to a place where there were not many of the modern conveniences of the day; in a mostly inhospitable locale. As we explored I tried to get a grip on what I was thinking and feeling. For quite a while I was stuck iterating through absorbing information; digesting it; and attempting to place it in context.

I pulled out my camera when we arrived at the cemetery. Why here of all places, I do not know. The culmination of inputs; the conclusion of absorbing information; the most poignant location in the site; I still am not sure. It does seem to be the one place that best sums up the way I feel and think about Manzanar though – quiet, still, desolate, lonely, barren, dusty, reverence, sacred, open, closed, serene, turbulent…

The main photograph, the tree, encapsulates what I feel about Manzanar – a sense of captivity and the unrelenting climate; feeling hopelessness, loneliness, and abandonment.