The adjacent image was taken by WRA photographer Francis Stewart at California’s Tule Lake internment camp during the Halloween/Harvest Festival on October 31, 1942. Stewart knelt before the three internees who were dressed in traditional Japanese folk costumes. He shot upward, capturing the white masks of the women and the dark mask of the man in the middle. But in the process of positioning himself, the photographer ceded symbolic authority to his subjects. The trio towers above their director assuming a stance and a measure of control completely denied evacuees during their march to the assembly centers.
Stewart is at their mercy rather than they at his. The masks hide the true identity and emotions of these three figures. But they had long since become faceless during the evacuation all labeled by the photographers as “persons of Japanese ancestry” no longer called Japanese Americans. The WRA told the evacuees that they should go peacefully into the camps and thereby prove their loyalty. In effect they had been encouraged to be happy with their lot. Is that the true meaning of these paper mache smiles or do they indict the entire process of forced accommodation? And what of the male figure with the menacing countenance who commands the center of attention? He grasps a long pole with empty chains at its apex. Is he the enslaver or the liberator? Stewart doesn’t say. He is too busy framing the scene.