Migrant agricultural worker's family, Nipomo California. Photo by Dorothea Lange. February 1936. Courtesy Farm Security Administration–Office of War Information Photograph Collection, Library of Congress.

Capturing the Home Front

Life at home in a world at war.

Featuring photographs by Dorothea Lange, Toyo Miyatake and Australian wartime photographers.

Life at home in a world at war. 

Famous American photographer Dorothea Lange established her reputation as a documentarian when she was commissioned by the government to travel the United States in the 1930s to capture and reveal the devastation wrought on Americans by The Great Depression.

During WWII Lange was commissioned by the US Office of War Information to photograph America’s factories, shipyards and farms as the nation went to war.

Her unvarnished depictions of the forced internment of Japanese Americans from coastal California to inland camps in 1942 were considered too realistic and raw for public consumption and Ansel Adams was commissioned to document the desolate camp at Manzanar in a better light.

 

 

 

“My own approach is based upon three considerations: First – hands off! Whenever I photograph I do not molest or tamper with or arrange. Second – a sense of place. I try to picture as part of its surroundings, as having roots. Third – a sense of time. Whatever I photograph, I try to show as having its position in the past or in the present.”

- Dorothea Lange

The exhibition includes original Depression and WWII photographs by Lange on loan from the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago and photographs by Toyo Miyatake, a Japanese American internee and professional photographer from Los Angeles who smuggled a lens into Manzanar and built a camera to capture camp life. 
 
Complementing the American content are reproductions from Australian collections of the evocative work of Sam Hood, William Cranstone, Jim Fitzpatrick and Hedley Cullen who documented wartime industry, Japanese internment, family and country life on our side of the Pacific
 

Produced by the Australian National Maritime Museum in association with the Museum of Contemporary Photography Columbia College Chicago and Toyo Miyatake Studio.

A War and Peace in the Pacific 75  exhibition supported by the USA Bicentennial Gift Fund

Featured image: Migrant agricultural worker's family, Nipomo California. Photo by Dorothea Lange. February 1936. Courtesy Farm Security Administration–Office of War Information Photograph Collection, Library of Congress..

About the Artists

Dorothea Lange at work in the 1930s. Reproduced courtesy Library Of Congress 8b27245a.

Dorothea Lange at work in the 1930s. Reproduced courtesy Library Of Congress 8b27245a.

Dorothea Lange  1895 – 1965

“My own approach is based upon three considerations: First – hands off! Whenever I photograph I do not molest or tamper with or arrange. Second – a sense of place. I try to picture as part of its surroundings, as having roots. Third – a sense of time. Whatever I photograph, I try to show as having its position in the past or in the present.” - Dorothea Lange

Born in Hoboken, New Jersey in 1895, Lange studied photography at Columbia University then went on to a successful career as a portrait photographer in San Francisco.

As an early practitioner of documentary photography she used her large Graflex camera to record the dignity and desperation of Americans made destitute by the Great Depression. During WWII she turned her camera to the war effort on American streets, farms and shipyards and on the forced internment of Japanese Americans. 

Using available light and aiming for a candid record she would make herself and her camera known to her subject and gauge their reaction before going ahead or walking away. It’s the fleeting intimacy of these unplanned encounters that still engages us today.

Lange died of oesophageal cancer in October 1965 while planning the first retrospective of her work at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Dorothea Lange at work in the 1930s. Reproduced courtesy Library Of Congress 8b27245a.

Toyo Miyatake by Ansel Adams, 1943.  Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, ID 00448u

Toyo (born Toyoo) Miyatake (1895-1979)

Born October 28 in Kagawa prefecture in Japan he migrated to the United States in 1909 with his mother and two brothers to join his father who had started a confectionary shop in Los Angeles's Chinatown. 

Miyatake became interested in photography in the early 1920s as a means to support his first love of oil painting. He attended a photography school in Little Tokyo taught by master photographer Harry K. Shigeta, and subsequently studied with Edward Weston, who was to become his mentor.

Much of his early work was in the pictorialist style which emphasised tonality and composition to create photographic ‘pictures’. 

Early in 1942, Miyatake, his wife and young family were interned in Manzanar camp as enemy aliens. He managed to smuggle a camera lens and film plate holder into the camp, and build a camera using film smuggled in by a hardware salesman and former client. 

He eventually asked camp director Ralph Merritt if he could set up a photo studio, and Merritt, who learned about Miyatake from Edward Weston, consented with the provision that Miyatake only load and set the camera, and a Caucasian assistant snap the shutter.

Eventually Miyatake was designated official camp photographer. While interned he met and began a long collaboration with Ansel Adams, who had been commissioned by the US government to photograph the camp.

On their return to Los Angeles, Miyatake reopened his photo studio in time for Christmas 1945 and resumed his successful career.. 

Miyatake retired in 1960, but according to his son Archie, who took over the Little Tokyo studio, continued to carry a camera with him every day until his death in 1979.

Shop the Homefront Store

Featuring photographs by Dorothea Lange, Toyo Miyatake and Australian wartime photographers. Learn more about the photographers through our range of products relating to the new exhibition Capturing the Home Front.

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Displaced - Manzanar 1942-1945

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