Mark Kirchner:  Manzanar Pilgrimage - Photographs from the Manzanar National Historic Site 1983-2008
February 1- May 15, 2009
Opening Reception:  Thursday, February 12, 5:30-8:30pm

Soka University's Founders Hall Art Gallery
Soka University
1 University Drive, Aliso Viejo, CA 92656
Directions: From Interstate 5 take Oso/Pacific Park Drive west to Wood Canyon. Turn left, then right on University.  Founders Hall is the domed building overlooking Peace Lake.
Contact: Wendy Harder

Web site,
Artist: Mark Kirchner,
Gallery hours, Monday – Friday, 9am-5pm

ALISO VIEJO, CA – Manzanar Pilgrimage - Photographs from the Manzanar National Historic Site 1983-2008, a collection of seventy black and white images by noted Newport Beach artist Mark Kirchner, documents the ongoing cultural legacy of the 1942 internment of 11,061 citizens of Japanese descent by the United States at Manzanar Relocation Center in Owens Valley, California. This exhibition opens at Soka University’s Founders Hall Art Gallery at 1 University Drive in Aliso Viejo, California from February 1st through May 15, 2009.  Admission is free M-F from 9:00 am – 5:00 pm. The public is invited to an opening reception on Thursday, February 12th, 5:30 – 8:30 p.m. See for a map and directions.

About the Artist

The Manzanar Pilgrimage Photographic Exhibition reveals through observation and witness, a personal inquiry into an almost forgotten moment of American history and the perseverance, struggle and spirit of the Japanese American community.

Mark Kirchner “makes records that are subtle in nature but full of inference.”  He is a photographer that “weaves” images to explore the rich meanings and insights of cultural process, history and identity. The photographs are of surprising variety, including minute pencil inscriptions, portraits, traditional Japanese gardens, vast landscapes and photographs from the annual Manzanar Pilgrimage. The photographs also include historical personalities that have strong associations with the Manzanar Pilgrimage: Sue Embrey, Rose Ochi, Warren Furutani, Harry Ueno and Elaine and Karl Yoneda. Anyone viewing the photographs will recognize that the content of the photographs would take years to accumulate and in fact the earliest examples date to the 1980s.

The careful observer will also see evidence of the slow decay of the site since its abandonment after World War II and the gradual transformation through restoration projects, community involvement and the site’s incorporation into the National Park System.

On a fateful road trip as a young boy, Mark Kirchner was drawn to the steep granite geology of the Eastern Sierra Nevada mountain range.  In 1983, he revisited the Owens Valley as a young adult and discovered the entrance to the Manzanar War Relocation Center, just off highway 395 and the old sentry buildings with their pagoda style roofs. Closer inspection of the site revealed household artifacts, inscribed names, dates and the camp cemetery. He unknowing had invaded the history and private world of the 110,000 Japanese-Americans relocated into ten armed internment camps after the outbreak of World War II in 1942 and was hooked.

Kirchner was inspired as a photographer by his studies with Ansel Adams when Adams was 77 years of age. While in high school in 1979, he was the youngest student admitted into Adam’s legendary Yosemite Workshop and years later worked for Adams as an group leader.  Ansel inspired Kirchner’s photographic craft and awakened him to the potential value and role that photographs have to inspire and educate.  Coincidentally, Adams made political inference against the internment when he photographed Manzanar in 1943.

Kirchner graduated from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1985 where he studied photography, and visual anthropology with photographer/social scientist John Collier Jr.  By chance Collier as a young man had been apprenticed to study photography with Dorothea Lange who made the iconic photograph “Migrant Mother” and other memorable great depression photos. In 1942 Lange was hired by the War Relocation Authority to photograph Japanese neighborhoods, WRA processing centers, and the Manzanar internment camp and later had her work censored by the same hiring entity.

Of all Manzanar photographers, Kirchner reveres Toyo Miyatake. Miyatake, an intern himself, had the courage to document the humanity within the barbed wire fence that surrounded Manzanar. He made his photographs with a camera built within the camp using a lens and film holder that was smuggled into the camp. Since all recording devices had been confiscated,  Miyatake risked being further confined in a federal prison. Coincidentally, Kirchner was asked to “make a picture” of a visiting couple on his first trip to Manzanar.  It turned out to be Miyatake’s son Archie and his wife Takeko. Archie asked Kirchner to make the photograph on the same spot where Toyo had taken their photograph some forty years earlier as high school sweethearts.

Today, Kirchner continues photographing cultural and sociological interests and teaches photography at Soka University of America.

Artist Statement

“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.”

Students and other activists organized the first group pilgrimage to Manzanar in 1969 and that lead to the creation of the Manzanar Committee. For over 39 years, the Manzanar Committee and other groups have fought for the protection of the site. This effort included the placement of the California Historical Marker #850 in 1971, its listing as a National Historic Landmark (1985) and its current designation as Manzanar National Historic Site. The National Park Service now administers Manzanar. This year marks the 40th annual Manzanar Pilgrimage that will be held on April 25, 2009. For more information on the pilgrimage contact the committee at

Soka University of America is a private, non-profit four-year liberal arts college and graduate school offering a 9:1 student/faculty ratio and study abroad for all undergraduate students. SUA features a non-sectarian curriculum and is open to top students of all nationalities.  About half of Soka’s students come from the United States and half from 30 other countries.  Soka University is founded upon the Buddhist principles of peace, human rights and the sanctity of life and is located on 103-acres in Aliso Viejo, CA.

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