Photographer – Internment camps – Toyo Miyatake

Ansel Adams: portrait of Toyo Miyatake at Manzanar, 1943

Ansel Adams: portrait of Toyo Miyatake at Manzanar, 1943 by trialsanderrors.

Ansel Adams: portrait of interned photographer Toyo Miyatake at Manzanar War Relocation Center, Owens Valley, California, 1943.

Third in a series of pictures from Ansel Adams’ stay at the Japanese-American relocation camp in 1943.

From the Ansel Adams at Manazar collection at the U.S. Library of Congress.
More Ansel Adams at Manzanar pictures. | More Ansel Adams pictures.
[PD] This picture is in the public domain.


Elegant and penetrating, TOYO MIYATAKE: INFINITE SHADES OF GRAY positions this immigrant photographer within the canon of American Art. In Los Angeles, Toyo Miyatake is reknowned as Little Tokyo’s foremost studio photographer. To others he is known for having smuggled a lens and film holder into one of America’s WWII concentration camps and being the first to capture life behind barbed wire with a makeshift camera made of scrapwood. Yet it was his little known artistic pursuits before the war that honed his discerning eye. INFINITE SHADES OF GRAY presents Miyatake’s pictorial and modernist photographs for the first time since they were exhibited in the 1920s and 1930s. Also included are never-before-seen images of Manzanar, the WWII camp Miyatake was incarcerated in, and recently-discovered home movies of Little Tokyo taken by Miyatake.

Introduction: Hirokazu Kosaka, Buddhist priest and friend of Toyo Miyatake describes the cultural basis for Miyatake’s asthetic:

“In architecture in Japan, there is a veranda. Its a Sanskrit word, a Buddhist word, its ‘to meet.’ And this is the space where man meets nature. Its not yes or no, it could be maybe. Its not white or black, its infinitesimal of gray. And this gray space – that’s what Miyatake was trying to create.”

56K / 256K

Little Tokyo in the 1920’s: Karin Higa, Senior Curator of Art at the Japanese American National Museum, describes LA’s Little Tokyo District during the 1920’s. Miyatake was at the peak of his artistic development during this period, using light and shadows in a way that is quite modern even by today’s standards.

56K / 256K

Japanese American Pictorialists: Toyo Miyatake was one of many Japanese American photographers who gained worldwide acclaim during the pictorialist era (ca. 1920-1945). One critic 1928 wrote, “The influence of this group has put a lasting mark on photography in this country, the repercussions of which are echoing throughout the world.”

56K / 256K

Life in Camp: Like 120,000 other Japanese Americans, Toyo Miyatake and his family were incarcerated during World War II. Realizing the importance of his position as a photographer, Miyatake vowed to document life in the camps so that future generations would never repeat such an injustice.

56K / 256K

Director: Robert A. Nakamura
Executive Producer: Karen L. Ishizuka
Editor: Gail Yasunaga
Cinematography: John Esaki, Dean Hayasaka
Original score by: David Iwataki
30 min. Color
Made with the support from the National Endowment for the Arts, City of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department, and the UCLA Endowed Chair for Japanese American Studies.
This film is available for purchase at the
Museum Store.

Tōyō Miyatake (宮武東洋,[1] Miyatake Tōyō; 1896–1979) was a Japanese American photographer, best known for his photographs documenting the Japanese American people and the Japanese American internment at Manzanar during WWII.



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[edit] Life

Miyatake was born in Kagawa, Shikoku in Japan in 1896. 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[2] – 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.[citation needed]

At the time Miyatake met his future wife, it was his brother that was courting her. He began spending time with her under the guise that he was using her as a model. His brother was crushed and it is said that he “died of a broken heart” at an early age.[citation needed]

Before WWII, Miyatake’s photography won awards[citation needed] as he photographed various personalities.

During WWII 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 the only ones that show the plight of US Citizens detained in the camps during the war.[citation needed]

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 also provided 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.[citation needed]

After the death of his wife Hiro in 1971, Miyatake moved from his home on Third Street in East Los Angeles to live in neighboring Monterey Park, with his daughter and her family.

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.[citation needed]

Before his death in 1979, Miyatake and Ansel Adams produced a book together called Two Views of Manzanar, a compilation of their photographs during the internment.

[edit] Offspring

All of Miyatake’s children were involved in photography and the family business. Archie, the eldest son, ran the family studio after Tōyō’s death in 1979. Robert Miyatake worked in the studio and later opened his own photographic color lab in South Pasadena, California. Richard (Tabo) worked in the family studio as well and left to work in photographic production. Youngest child and only daughter, Minnie, also worked in the studio performing clerical and business-related duties. A handful of Miyatake’s grandchildren continue the tradition to this day.[citation needed]

[edit] Toyo Miyatake Studio

The Toyo Miyatake Studio moved in 1985 to San Gabriel, California, where it still operates today. The studio is now managed by grandson, Alan Miyatake.[3]

[edit] Miscellaneous

One of Miyatake’s prized possessions was his white 1957 Ford Thunderbird, which now belongs to his youngest grandson, Mark Takahashi.[citation needed]

Miyatake was easily recognizable in Little Tokyo, wearing his trademark black beret and bowtie.[citation needed]

In the TV movie Farewell to Manzanar, Pat Morita portrays Zenahiro, a character based on Miyatake.[citation needed]

In 2002, Robert A. Nakamura made the film, Toyo Miyatake: Infinite Shades of Gray, documenting the photographer’s life and work.

[edit] Books by Miyatake

  • Ansel Adams and Toyo Miyatake, Two Views of Manzanar, Los Angeles : Frederick S. Wight Art Gallery, UCLA, c. 1978.
  • (Japanese) Shashinka Miyatake Tōyō no sekai: Renzu ga toraeta ningen no kiroku: 50-nen no nichibei-kōryū-shi (写真家宮武東洋の世界:レンズがとらえた人間の記録:50年の日米交流史). Tokyo: Bungeishunjū, 1980.
  • (Japanese) Miyatake Tōyō no shashin: 1923–1979 (宮武東洋の写真:1923~1979). Tokyo: Bungeishunjū, 1984.

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This entry was posted on April 15, 2009 by in Photographer - Internment camps - Toyo Miyatake and tagged .
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