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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Clem Albers

Dates:  1903 (ca) - 1991, October
Born:  US
Died:  US, CA, San Francisco
Active:  US
 
  

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© Gerald Robinson - Used with permission.
Robinson, Gerald H., 2002, Elusive Truth: Four Photographers at Manzanar, (Carl Mautz Publishing) [Paperback] [ISBN: 1887694242]
 
Clem Albers was born around 1903 in Michigan. He grew up in Berkeley, California, and as a teen-ager, became a photographer for the San Francisco Bulletin and later, the Chronicle. He was either employed by, or loaned to, the WRA early in its operations.
 
Albers photographed the assembly of Japanese Americans as they boarded buses and trains and as they disembarked at their destinations. He worked at Manzanar for a couple of days in early April 1942 when the camp was still under construction and military police units there were living in army tents. The National Archives include 381 WRA photographs by Albers, of which 107 were made at Manzanar.
 
The low overall count[1] suggests that Albers' tenure with the WRA was short. The photographs were also spread between Manzanar, Poston, Tule Lake, and the evacuation and assembly process. Apparently he left the WRA to became a Warrant Officer photographer in the Maritime Service for the rest of World War II. He then returned to the Chronicle, became its Chief Photographer, and died in San Francisco in October 1991. He was a close friend of the Pulitzer Prize winning photographer Joe Rosenthal who provided information and valuable insights about him.
 
Unfortunately, only a few of Albers' Manzanar photographs have been published, but all of them can be viewed on the National Archives website as well as that of the University of California at Berkeley. Some were included in Executive Order 9066.[2]
 
Albers' experience as a press photographer made him skeptical about politicians and official pronouncements and, although not vocal about it, he viewed the mass evacuation of American Japanese with distaste - a disdain that is smuggled into the two-edged images. For example, he showed aged American Japanese men and women and tiny children being helped by soldiers from evacuation trains; this may display military compassion to some, but others may ask why they were there in the first place. American Japanese so-called "volunteer pioneers" work at Manzanar to construct their own concentration camp, but they do so under armed guard.
 
Albers did not hesitate to reveal the primitive conditions into which the evacuees were placed, and their grim and frightened expressions. A particularly poignant image, for example, shows a window of a train arriving at Lone Pine, California, on the journey to Manzanar. Inside, peering through the dirty glass is a small child somber with fear.
 
In other photographs, Albers shows the incoming evacuees lining up for "shots", nailing up signs, building their barracks, and trying to clear sagebrush. In some, the military police are at assembly, armed with rifles. A woman gets a pail of water from a hydrant; there is no running water in the barracks. An elderly man is examined by an evacuee physician in the newly established hospital; the WRA has neutralized this "grave threat" to national security. One particularly telling image shows evacuee children penned in a truck, looking through the slats that serve as bars, identity tags hanging from their clothing.
 
Finally, there is a young woman looking out a doorway from a dark room, watching another girl walking by in Japanese "geta," the tall wooden shoes that Albers' caption mentions as being particularly useful in dust - plentiful at Manzanar.
 
Albers established the facts in a professional and incisive way. His pictures speak clearly for those who care to look, and the message is one of sharp irony.
 
  1. Albers' photographs appear to be made with a 4"x5" camera, the size used by most press photographers of the time. The most popular of these cameras was the Speed Graphic that was equipped with a rangefinder, viewfinder, and sometimes, a rapid film changer magazine.
     
    Joe Rosenthal, Albers' close friend, graciously provided much information about Albers' personality and professional skills in a telephone interview January 1, 1999. According to Rosenthal, Albers was self-effacing, highly insightful, and understood dimensions of a story that others might overlook. He had great rapport with the subjects he worked with, and being an avid reader, he brought a depth of understanding as well as experience to his work.
  2. Maisie and Richard Conrat, Executive Order 9066, California Historical Society, 1972. Ten images by Miyatake were included in Stanley, I Am An American, supra, n.21.
 
  
 

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Getty Research, Los Angeles, USA has an ULAN (Union List of Artists Names Online) entry for this photographer. This is useful for checking names and they frequently provide a brief biography. Go to website
 
  
 
  
 
  
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