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Toyo Miyatake's photos tell story of displaced lives at Manzanar

August 01, 2012|By Mary Forgione | Los Angeles Times Daily Travel & Deal blogger
  • Toyo Miyatake shot photographs of life at the Manzanar relocation camp during World War II.
Toyo Miyatake shot photographs of life at the Manzanar relocation camp… (Ansel Adams / Library of…)

Toyo Miyatake was an accomplished Los Angeles photographer in the 1930s and '40s. The immigrant, who had come to the United States at age 14, was among the more than 110,000 Japanese Americans sent to internment camps during World War II.

In 1942 when he and his family were forced to move to the military-style Manzanar relocation camp near Lone Pine, Calif., Miyatake used his skills to tell the story of day-to-day life for these displaced families -- no easy task considering cameras were not allowed in the camp.

Seventy of the black-and-white photographs he took are now on display as part of an exhibition at the Eastern California Museum in Independence, Calif., not far from what has become Manzanar National Historic Site. The photos document aspects of the camp and the people who endured the harsh climate in the Sierra foothills that could be searing hot in summer and freezing cold in winter.

The photos show children at school and playing as well as the general store, the flower shop and the camp newspaper -- all places that vanished after the war ended and internees struggled to resume their lives.

How did he get these shots? Miyatake had smuggled in a lens and film, and had a carpenter make a wooden box camera in camp. Then friend and famed photographer Edward Weston intervened and persuaded the camp director to allow Miyatake to bring in and use his own photo equipment.

After the war, Miyatake returned to his photographic studio in Little Tokyo, where today a street bears his name and a bronze statue his likeness. His son, Archie Miyatake, created the prints for the exhibition from the original negatives.

"Personal Responsibility: The Camp Photographs of Toyo Miyatake" is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily through February at the museum at 155 N. Grant St. in Independence. Admission is free, donations accepted.

Contact: Eastern California Museum, (760) 878-0258

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