Stones. Mark Kirchner

Stones. Mark Kirchner

Mark Kirchner has been returning to Manzanar for over 25 years. Kirchner’s project is Manzanar Pilgrimage which focuses on the annual memorial gathering and documents former internees and their families’ stories. Mark explains in his artist statement:

This project is a work in progress. As a photographer, I felt the need to create a visual record as the Japanese American community struggled to preserve the site, its history and legacy. My primary role is that of a witness. The process of witnessing the pilgrimages over many years has given me the time to attempt a holistic photographic document. Within this body of work I hope to make visible those brief moments when the human spirit is revealed. I have discovered that some of the people I have photographed do not see themselves or their actions as historically significant and rarely worth photographing. I hope some of their modesty has been instilled in me.

Watanabe. Sentry Post Building, 1984. Mark Kirchner

Inscription: Watanabe. Sentry Post Building, 1984. Mark Kirchner

March 30th 194(2) and Kanji, 2006. Mark Kirchner

Inscription: March 30th 194(2) and Kanji. 2006. Mark Kirchner

It is somewhat fortuitous that Mark asked me not to include images of people and that I didn’t wish to include any pictures of people. Manzanar is a peculiar site and certainly not of a human scale. As the Eastern Sierras drop off sharply, the plateau of high desert to the east is a stark landscape. Beautiful, awesome, sublime – yes; livable – barely by today’s standards.

Some could argue that Manzanar should be allowed to recede into the dust and weeds of the California/Nevada borderlands – that humans should never have been interred and nor should human’s need to return. But we are funny creatures and I, for one, appreciate the impression of meaning upon a site once the site has run through its cycle of original use. The dialogue about former sites of incarceration is where one finds responsibility, complexity and community.

Tets Ishikawa, 45, 55, 66, 83. Sentry Post Building, 1984 and 2007. Mark Kirchner

Inscription: Remember. Sentry Post Building, 2007. Mark Kirchner

Kubota 4-1-42 1984. Mark Kirchner

Inscription: Kubota 4-1-42. 1984. Mark Kirchner

Manzanar is a flat site with no place to hide. Everything that is visible is rooted to the ground, and all that is invisible is in the memories and oral histories of the people Mark Kirchner cares so much about. If Kirchner’s concern is preserving the stories of people interred, my concern is his images that reflect that aim. I chose these images because they speak of definites; definite people, dates and action (scribing). They are evidence of existence and time. These images are also all surface which to me summarises the barren desert site.

There is a poetic beauty that one speculates the original scrawler was aware or unaware of – that being, the paradox that the necessary human constructions at Manzanar are those to hold the visible, physical evidence. The concrete is as incongruous to the site at Manzanar as mass human occupation was between 1942 and 1945.

Remember, Sentry Post Building, 2007. Mark Kirchner

Inscription: Tets Ishikawa, 45, 55, 66, 83. Sentry Post Building, 1984 and 2007. Mark Kirchner

Itch 3-30-43. 1983. Mark Kirchner

Inscription: Itch 3-30-43. 1983. Mark Kirchner

Kirchner explains further:

Since the annual pilgrimage lasts only a few hours, I knew it would take many years to make the images for the foundation of this work. As the event grew from the intimate Manzanar Pilgrimage and Potluck of the early 1980s to the pilgrimages we experience today, the task of identifying and gathering contact information has grown. After the 2007 pilgrimage I decided to try to contact the people in my photographs. Most of my free time last year was spent in research and correspondence. I have attempted to identify and contact every person photographed on this site. I still have not been 100 percent successful with this effort. I am hopeful that any person that remains unidentified will in time contact me.

If this post can help Mark Kirchner in his noble endeavour I would be thrilled. Tell your neighbours about it!


Mark Kirchner is an expert bookbinder and salmon flies crafter. Here is his Silver Studios website. Read Kirchner’s biography. Found via photoexchange.

Thanks to Mark Kirchner for his permission to reproduce images and the helpful background information on the project.


Comment from Mark Kirchner: I like that you picked up on the nature of the artifacts and their relationship to the earth. At one time there were 800 buildings on the site. Now there are 4 buildings.