Although writing can help decipher history, it’s our humanity which keeps all of us striving for an improved future.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Tōyō Miyatake

Tōyō Miyatake (宮武東洋, Miyatake Tōyō; 1895–1979) was a Japanese American photographer, best known for his photographs documenting the Japanese American people and the Japanese American internment at Manzanar during World War II.  He was born in Kagawa, Shikoku in Japan in 1895. In 1909 he migrated to the United States to join his father. He settled in the Little Tokyo section of Los Angeles, California.
With an interest in arts — most notably photography, which he studied under Harry K. Shigeta— Miyatake began associating with the local arts community. In 1923 he bought his photo studio. Miyatake encouraged fellow photographer Edward Weston to exhibit his work and Miyatake is credited as giving Weston his first gallery showing. At the time Miyatake met his future wife, his brother was courting her. He began spending time with Hiro under the guise that he was using her as a model. His brother was crushed; it is said that he "died of a broken heart" at an early age.
Before World War II, Miyatake's photography won awards as he photographed various personalities. During World War II Miyatake was interned at Manzanar relocation camp in the Owens Valley. He smuggled a camera lens into the camp and constructed a camera body from wood. The pictures he secretly took at the camp are among the relatively few that show the plight of the U.S. citizen inmates.
After the war, the family returned to Los Angeles, where their home had been entrusted to some of their white friends during the internment. Unlike many families who lost their homes, the Miyatakes were able to resume their life and provide shelter to a few less fortunate internees and their families. In post-war Little Tokyo, many residents were unable to afford Miyatake's services and some opted instead to barter goods to have him photograph weddings and portraits. With his wife Hiro running the front office, she once negotiated his services for a Steinway piano and another time, she negotiated for a litter of poodles.
He remained active in the studio throughout this period. In the early morning, Miyatake could be seen walking around Monterey Highlands Elementary School for exercise. The last image he captured on film was taken at this park. The film was discovered and processed after his death. Before his death in 1979, Miyatake and Ansel Adams produced a book, Two Views of Manzanar, a compilation of their photographs during the internment.
Miyatake's cremated remains are buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Boyle Heights; a portion of his remains are stored in the Koyasan Buddhist Temple in Little Tokyo.
Photos by Miyatake:


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Even though I am from Kansas, I enjoy venturing into other worlds from around the globe which is why my writing focuses on diversity. With fluid accessibility to modern media and traveling opportunities, my Midwestern world can expand and explore beyond my own backyard. In addition to studying cultures, I take pleasure in studying history. Submitting to a moment in time allows us to remember, or to muse even, over our society’s past. Although writing can educate as well as entertain, yet what makes art incredibly amazing, to that of paintings, photographs, and music, it transposes emotion into another form of humanity, and therefore, it is our humanity which keeps all of us striving for an improved future.

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