Jan 1, 2018

A World War II Photographer Finds Beefcake in Japanese Internment Camps

You know that 120,000 Japanese-Americans were "evacuated" from their homes and placed in internment camps during World War II. You may not know that the Farm Security Administration confiscated over 10,000 farms owned by Japanese-Americans in four states, took bids on what white people would become the new "overseers," rounded up the farmers and their families, and put them in special camps where they could continue to work the land.   

In July 1942, the Farm Security Administration sent Russell Lee (1903-1986) to document life in the Minidoka Camp near Rupert, Idaho, perhaps to ease the guilty conscience of the American people by insisting that life in the camps was quite nice.

He photographs the inmates at work growing beans and potatoes, taking down the American flag at night, playing pingpong, going swimming. 

A chef carves meat for the communal dinner -- no ration stamps or meatless Tuesdayshere!

This inmate is writing a letter by the light of a kerosine lamp.  See, the barracks have all the comforts of home!

Inmates, who Lee calls "farm workers," playing a board game.

A large number of the photos show shirtless. muscular men.  Of course, it was hot in Rupert, Idaho in July 1942, and many inmates did take their shirts off, but perhaps Lee wanted to capture the beauty of Japanese men for people who were used to seeing only grotesque stereotypes.

After taking photos of the internment camp, Lee went into town and photographed some white boys going swimming, as if to signify that local residents welcomed the Japanese-Americans.  As if they lived together in harmony.

Or at least side by side.  No Japanese-Americans appear in the photos of the white boys swimming.

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