Museum’s photo exhibit of Manzanar comes home | Our Opinion | Sept. 30

Bainbridge Island’s rich, and occasionally dramatic historic storyline is often underappreciated because it represents no more than nanosecond in time. It’s interesting, but not necessarily vital, at least not until March 30, 1942, when 262 Japanese American islanders became the first victims of President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 establishing relocation camps.

The island’s Historical Museum also suffers somewhat from location and the surrounding rural tranquility, but it’s an  invaluable resource as a collector of this unique island’s cultural heritage. The museum’s talented staff is also active in ensuring that our history comes home, which why it has won a prestigious award from the Western Muesums Association (representing nine western states, Mexico and British Columbia).

The travelling exhibit “Ansel Adams – A Portrait of Manzanar,” features the famous nature photographer’s photo-essay of life in the Northern California desert camp that served as the first stop for most islanders before being transferred to the Minidoka internment camp in Idaho. The exhibit of 50 photographs, which represent Adams’ only photo documentary, is invaluable because the inmates were not allowed to capture their own images nor the environment in which they were incarcerated.

The exhibit, which won an annual award that furthers the “study and understanding of the American West,” has predictably broken attendance records for the museum, which has led to it being retained until at least the end of this year.  The images can be sad, breathtaking and educational, especially when paired with its oral history, which, of course, has its own value.

For example, while surrounded by the black-and-white photos one rainy morning, an elderly woman who had experienced the internment as a child spoke softly, pointedly to an eighth-grade girl from Seattle whose class had come to see the exhibit. The connection between them was palpable, and to an observer,  an unforgettable moment between them.

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