Toyo Miyatake

Name Toyo Miyatake
Born October 28 1895
Died February 22 1979
Birth Location Kagawa, Japan
Generational Identifier


Photographer and leading figure in Los Angeles's Little Tokyo arts community who became the official photographer of the concentration camp at Manzanar.

Early Years

Toyo (born Toyoo) Miyatake (1895-1979) was born on October 28, 1895, in Kagawa prefecture in Japan. He came to the United States in 1909 with his mother and two brothers to rejoin his father who had left Japan two years earlier and started a confectionary shop in Los Angeles's Chinatown, which later relocated to Little Tokyo. As a youth, he dropped out of school to help out his father in his business, but eventually landed a job as a houseboy in a Hollywood apartment-hotel. [1]

Miyatake became interested in photography in the early 1920s as a means to support his first love of oil painting, a profession that was strongly opposed by his mother. Because of his talent as a photographer, he was encouraged to attend a photography school in Little Tokyo taught by master photographer Harry K. Shigeta, and subsequently studied with Edward Weston, who was to become his mentor. Under Weston's tutelage, he studied the art of Japanese woodblock prints. As an active member of the Japanese Camera Club of Little Tokyo, Miyatake and his Shaku-Do-Sha men's club sponsored a 1925 photography show featuring Weston's work.

Miyatake was married in 1922 to his wife Hiro, and the Toyo Miyatake Studio was opened in Little Tokyo in October 1923 (coincidentally formerly known as the Toyo Photo Studio). Soon after photographing the 1932 Olympics for the Asahi Shimbun , he returned to Japan to visit his ailing father, only to learn his father had died while he was still en route. Efforts at starting a studio in Japan failed to materialize, and he returned to a Little Tokyo studio on First Street and Central Avenue in Los Angeles. During the 1930s, Miyatake met Japanese dancer Michio Ito, whom he photographed as the official photographer for the 1937 Hollywood Bowl season. Much of his prolific work during this time was indicative of the pictorialist movement, which emphasized tonality and composition to create an aesthetic style. [2] He won critical acclaim and prizes in many exhibitions, including the 1926 London International Photography Exhibition.

Camp Photographer at Manzanar

The exclusion order forced Miyatake, his wife and four children, to the concentration camp at Manzanar. He was able to store his photographic equipment but managed to smuggle a camera lens and film plate holder into the camp against government orders. Miyatake told his son Archie that he felt it was his duty to document camp life. An Issei carpenter in camp constructed a box to house the lens, and Miyatake was able to get film into camp by way of a hardware salesman and former client. The photographer eventually asked camp director Ralph Merritt if he could set up a photo studio, and Merritt, who learned about Miyatake from Edward Weston, consented with the provision that Miyatake only load and set the camera, and a Caucasian assistant snap the shutter. Eventually, that restriction was lifted, and Miyatake was designated official camp photographer, and granted the freedom to take photos of everyday life at Manzanar. While there, Miyatake met and began a longtime collaboration with Ansel Adams, who wanted to capture candid photos of people there; the two men later published their work together in the book Two Views of Manzanar . [3] Miyatake's groundbreaking Manzanar photographs have also been featured in a 2012 exhibition at the Eastern California Museum called "Personal Responsibility: The Camp Photos of Toyo Miyatake." [4]

Return to Los Angeles

Upon learning that Manzanar was going to close after being there for three and one-half years, Miyatake purchased a 1929 Model A Ford and used it to drive his family back to Los Angeles, stopping in Poston and Gila River to photograph those camps for Allen Eaton's Beauty Behind Barbed Wire .

The family was able to resettle in their home in Los Angeles, and Miyatake reopened his photo studio in time for Christmas 1945. In addition to taking portraits of families, children, celebrities and civic personalities, he covered Japan's first postwar international sports competition, the 1959 U.S. outdoor swimming championships, for the Mainichi Shimbun . Miyatake also worked as a freelance photographer for the Rafu Shimpo in Los Angeles, whose postwar photos are featured in the permanent collection at the Japanese American National Museum. In 1984, his photos were featured in a Japan exhibition, and a book, Toyo Miyatake: Behind the Camera, 1923-1979 , was published in conjunction with the exhibition.

Miyatake retired in 1960, but according to his son Archie, who took over the Little Tokyo studio, continued to carry a camera with him every day. His reputation grew both in Los Angeles and abroad, as he was chosen Nisei Week Pioneer of the Year in 1971, and decorated with the Order of the Rising Son by the Japanese government in 1976.

After his death in 1979, his contributions to the Little Tokyo community were marked with the naming of a street after him in 2011, now called Toyo Miyatake Way, and the installation of a bronze relief of the photographer. He is the subject of two documentary films, Infinite Shades of Gray (2001), and Toyo's Camera (2008).

Authored by Sharon Yamato

For More Information

Adams, Ansel, and Toyo Miyatake. Two Views of Manzanar: An Exhibition of Photographs . Los Angeles: Frederick S. Wight Art Gallery, University of California, Los Angeles, 1978.

Armor, John, and Peter Wright. Manzanar . New York: Vintage Books, 1989.

Benti, Wynne ed. Born Free and Equal . Bishop: Spotted Dog Press, Inc. 2002.

Davidov, Judith Fryer. "The Color of My Skin, The Shape of My Eyes: Photographs of the Japanese American Internment by Dorothea Lange, Ansel Adams and Toyo Miyatake." The Yale Journal of Criticism 9.2 (fall 1996): 223-44.

Eaton, Allen H. Beauty Behind Barbed Wire . New York: Harper Books, 1952.

Green, Stephanie. "Art and History Converge: Toyo Miyatake Studio Turns 75." AsianWeek , March 5-11, 1998.

Higa, Karin, and Tim B. Wride. "Manzanar Inside and Out: Photo Documentation of the Japanese Wartime Incarceration." In Reading California: Art, Image, and Identity, 1900–2000 . Edited by Stephanie Barron, Sheri Bernstein, and Ilene Susan Fort. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000. 314–37.

Miyatake, Atsufumi, Taisuke Fujishima, and Eikoh Hosoe, eds. Toyo Miyatake Behind the Camera 1923-1979 . Special English edition. Translated by Paul Petite. Tokyo: Bungeishunji Co., Ltd., 1984.

Phu, Thy. Picturing Model Citizens: Civility in Asian American Visual Culture . Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2012.

Robinson, Gerald H. Elusive Truth: Four Photographers at Manzanar—Ansel Adams, Clem Albers, Dorothea Lange and Toyo Miyatake . Nevada City, CA: Carl Mautz Publishing, 2002.

Wenger, Gina L. "Photography: Three Photographers' Standpoints on the Japanese American Internment." Art Education (September 2007).


  1. Much of the biographical information can be found in an unpublished account by Harry Honda, August 5, 1987.
  2. Toyo Miyatake: Infinite Shades of Gray , dir. Robert A. Nakamura, Japanese American National Museum, Media Center, 2001, documentary.
  3. Archie Miyatake, "Manzanar Remembered," in Born Free and Equal , ed. Wynne Benti (Bishop: Spotted Dog Press, Inc. 2002), 16-21.
  4. Archie Miyatake, "Manzanar Remembered," 22.

Last updated April 16, 2024, 3:18 a.m..