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Fortunes in Apples: Photo Essay by Mark Ludak

At first glance the photographs seem very quiet, full of cool grace and ethereal beauty. But as you look at them and read about the layers of their history, they start to speak to you. You begin to hear the voices of all who have lived and labored here, and of those who have been kept here against their will. Memories of life echo in the vacant spaces, and all that was lost here–withered promises of abundance, lost freedoms, lost lives, and lost hope–resonate in the eloquence of their stillness.

Fortunes in Apples

Photographs and Text by Mark Ludak

This work has its origin in a gift card found at the Manzanar Concentration Camp located in the Owens Valley of California. By the fall of 1942, as a result of Executive Order 9066, all Japanese Americans had been evicted from California and relegated to one of the concentration camps built to imprison them, including any US citizen of at least 1/16th Japanese ancestry; over 117,000 Americans in total, were interred in ten camps, and sixteen temporary detention centers throughout the United States. Manzanar is one of 10 concentration camps built by the citizens who would later become its occupants. Over 10,000 Japanese Americans were held against their will in Manzanar. These individuals and families lost their homes, farms, and businesses. The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco reported that these citizens had suffered 400 million dollars in losses. Manzanar is now a national historic site commemorating this injustice.  Not widely known or acknowledged are the over 10,000 Americans of German descent comprising 36% of total internments under the US Justice Department’s Enemy Alien Control Program, thousands of Italian Americans held prisoner during World War ll, and thousands more whose movements were restricted.

The historic commemorative card produced for sale in the adjacent gift shop to the site replicates a handbill from 1910 enticing farmers to relocate to California to profit from growing apples in the Owens Valley. The irony that all the water would be drained from the Owens Valley and diverted to Los Angeles to quench the thirst of the desert city by the time Manzanar served as a concentration camp is lost on those in the gift shop selling the card.

Manzanar means apple orchard in Spanish. The historic commemorative card produced for sale in the adjacent gift shop to the site replicates a handbill from 1910 enticing farmers to relocate to California to profit from growing apples in the Owens Valley. The irony that all the water would be drained from the Owens Valley and diverted to Los Angeles to quench the thirst of the desert city by the time Manzanar served as a concentration camp is lost on those in the gift shop selling the card. The Owens Valley is now, and was in 1942, a dry lakebed lacking the ability to grow any fruit in the extreme heat of summer and freezing temperatures of winter.    The ultimate fruit of the orchards of the Owens Valley is of a distinctly different order: toxic, barren, isolated, and the history of Manzanar primarily forgotten. 

We live in a post-industrial landscape, a time of transience, rootlessness, uncertainty, and disbelief in information and social systems, which seemed to serve us so well in the past but no longer possess credibility. Photographing places particularly hard hit by the transition from an industrial and agrarian economy to an economy of unfettered consumption on the margins of mainstream society is a story I feel compelled to tell.  Places like Manzanar, Pixley, Slab City, Salton Sea, Kern Oil Field, and other California’s central valley regions serve as reminders of our past and portend our future.

This work references the photography of the Farm Security Administration most directly and its effort to witness the social and physical landscape in a straightforward manner. The working method is to observe, record, and comment by selecting the subject matter and the moment in time chosen to make an exposure.  It is a photographic process pointing towards the isolation, separation, and alienation on the edges of contemporary society and those individuals singled out, marginalized, or imprisoned. 

Since 1985, Mark Ludak has worked as a fine artist and documentary photographer with a focus on society and the environment. He has completed international and national assignments for clients including Apple, The New York Times, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Johnson & Johnson, The Philadelphia Daily News, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Environmental Defense Fund, The Solebury Land Conservancy, Amnesty International, and many others. He recently completed commissions concerning healthcare in Rwanda and Vietnam for non-governmental organizations.

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