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BOOK:Inside ‘Seen and Unseen’

By David Yamaguchi The North American Post

If there is a young person on your Christmas shopping list for whom you are searching for a book that their whole family would also want to read, my vote would be for “Seen and Unseen” by Elizabeth Partridge and Lauren Tamaki (Chronicle Books, 2022, hardcover, 123 pp.).

The reason is its effective interweaving of famous historical photos, artwork, and text blocks to tell the complex story of Japanese American incarceration as captured through the lenses of the three most noted photographers of the era.

“Seen and Unseen” asks and answers one question to tell its tale: what lies untold behind the historical photos of the Manzanar camp, central California, that were taken by the photographers, two employed by the US government and one clandestine Issei professional?

Left historical photo Ansel Adams Right beyond the frame sketch Takami

The photographers were Dorothea Lange, Ansel Adams and Los Angeles studio-worker Toyo Miyatake. As the former two were restricted in what they could photograph, the new book employs sketches to illustrate what was just out-of-frame.

Especially revealing is a series of images describing how Miyatake managed to secretly photograph what he saw at the Manzanar camp by sneaking in a camera lens and making a homemade camera. In turn, friends snuck in film and darkroom supplies (above).

The author Partridge, a goddaughter of Lange, grew up “surrounded by” Lange’s photos. Illustrator Tamaki has been published in “The New Yorker” and “The New York Times.”

Lauren Tamaki Photos DY

My highly positive view of “Seen and Unseen” comes first from my own youth, when such reader-friendly JA books for young readers scarcely existed. In those days, owing to relatively greater production costs, the few books that were widely available tended to be print-rich and image-poor. Examples include Monica Sone’s “Nisei Daughter,” (1953), Bill Hosokawa’s “Nisei, The Quiet Americans” (1969) and Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston’s “Farewell to Manzanar” (1973).

While a few outstanding illustrated books had been published by then, notably Mine Okubo’s “Citizen 13660,” (1946), and Estelle Ishigo’s “Lone Heart Mountain” (1972), I don’t recall seeing them. “Citizen” may have been out of print and hard to find; it didn’t start being reprinted until 1978.

My respect for “Seen and Unseen” also reflects the decades since, much of which I have spent learning to present complex, technical material on paper in a way that readers will grasp and remember (earthquake article, p. 5). The essence of what I have learned is “Tell your story in pictures” — in photos, maps and sketches — much as Partridge and Tamaki have done.