On August 27, 1942 the Amache concentration camp opened its doors to thousands of Japanese Americans who had been uprooted from their lives in California and transported to the remote, windswept plains of Colorado. For the next three years, Amache incarcerates endured weather extremes that ranged from freezing winter snow to summertime heat and dust storms.
With 7,318 residents at its peak, Amache was the 10th largest city in Colorado during World War II, but the smallest of the War Relocation Authority (WRA) camps. Located within walking distance from the town of Granada, Amache residents enjoyed access to services, commodities, and employment opportunities not available at the other WRA camps. Evidence unearthed during archaeological studies of Amache, including an abalone shell from the Granada Fish Market and swizzle sticks from a local bar, bear witness to the close ties between Amache and its neighboring town.
The higher morale afforded by this relative freedom is evident in photographs of Amache. This visual record has been greatly enhanced by the photographs of George Ochikubo, who—along with his family—was relocated from Portland, Oregon and incarcerated at Amache from 1942 through 1945. While there, Ochikubo used his 4×5 speed graphic camera to take hundreds of striking photographs of the camp’s residents, industries, recreational activities, built environments, and natural surroundings. His photos have an almost cinematic quality: carefully constructed shots that skillfully employ shadow and depth to heighten drama, while also displaying intimacy with the people and places he captured through his lens.
In this photo essay, Ochikubo’s photos are paired with family collections as well as photos from the WRA archives to provide a glimpse into everyday life at the Amache concentration camp.