MIYATAKE Toyo

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MIYATAKE Toyo 宮武 東洋 (1895-1979) Kagawa Pref. Official photographer and internee at the Manzanar Relocation Center where Japanese-Americans were forcibly interned during World War II.

Came to the U.S. in 1909 with his mother and two older brothers to rejoin his father who had gone to the U.S. to find employment. The family lived in Little Tokyo in Los Angeles, California.

At age 21 and against his parents' wishes, Toyo took up photography to pursue his dream of becoming an artist. He studied under Harry Shigeta who later became a successful commercial photographer in Chicago.

In September 1923, Toyo acquired the Toyo Photo Studio which coincidentally bore his first name. Married in 1922 and had a son, named Archie, in 1924.

Toyo won many photo awards including one at the London International Photography Exhibition. Also studied under Edward Weston.

Photographed the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics for Asahi Shimbun newspapers. He and his family then returned to Japan due to his father's terminal illness. He tried to establish a photo studio in Japan but failed. So he returned to the U.S. after a year in Japan. After establishing the Toyo Miyatake Studio in Los Angeles, he became a successful photographer.

From late March 1942, over 110,000 Japanese-Americans living on the Pacific coast were forcibly relocated to ten internment camps. Miyatake and his family were interned at the Manzanar Relocation Center almost 300 miles from Los Angeles in the Nevada desert. Manzanar saw a peak population of over 10,000.

Camera equipment was not permitted into the camp, but Miyatake managed to smuggle in a lens, film, and photo chemicals by hiding it in the bottom of luggage. He had a carpenter in the camp build a wooden camera body for the lens. He got tacit approval by the camp's administration. After about six months in the camp, he gained approval to be the camp's official photographer and his camera in storage was returned to him. He took about 2,500 photos of daily life in the camp.

After three and a half years in Manzanar, the war ended and he returned to Little Tokyo and reopened his photo studio. The studio continued to be active in the Japanese-American community, taking photos for community events such as ground-breakings, dinners, and visits by dignitaries (including Emperor Hirohito).

It was also a major contributor of photos to the Rafu Shimpo, a Japanese and English publication targeting the Japanese-American community. The studio was later inherited by Toyo's son Archie, and it is still in business under the management of Archie's son Alan.

The Toyo Miyatake Photo Studio currently operates in San Gabriel, California by Toyo's descendants.

(Reference: Japanese American History, published by the Japanese American National Museum.)

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