Toyo Miyatake’s Legacy Discussed at Reagan Library

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Gary Miyatake and his parents, Archie and Take, at the Reagan Presidential Library with Air Force One in the background. (Photo credit: Toyo/John Gee)

Gary Miyatake and his parents, Archie and Take, at the Reagan Presidential Library with Air Force One in the background. (Photo credit: Toyo/John Gee)

SIMI VALLEY — Photographer Gary Toyo Miyatake was the main speaker at a luncheon held at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library on Dec. 16 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988.

He discussed why his grandfather, Toyo Miyatake (1896-1979), took photos at the Manzanar internment camp during World War II.

Cameras were initially prohibited in camp, but Toyo Miyatake, a noted photographer based in Little Tokyo, smuggled in a lens and built a camera. Gary Miyatake quoted his grandfather as saying, “This is my duty to document camp life, so this kind of injustice never happens again.”

A photo presentation from Junichi Suzuki’s documentary “Toyo’s Camera” was followed by a speech that touched on the experiences Gary Miyatake had with his grandfather. Toyo Miyatake was quoted as saying that the family name is perfect for a photographer because it resembles “May I take” (your photograph).

The younger Miyatake also noted that his grandfather was eventually able to bring all of his equipment into camp because of his friendship with famed photographers Ansel Adams and Eward Weston. “Toyo helped Edward Weston sell his prints in the 1920s. Weston never forgot and called his friend Ralph Merritt (camp administrator at Manzanar) and told him, ‘Toyo saved my life and is a gifted photographer. Let him bring his cameras into camp.’”

Sharon Day, co-chair of the Republican National Committee, said that the speech and the story brought tears to her eyes. As a gift, she and the other luncheon attendees each received a DVD of “Toyo’s Camera” signed by Toyo’s son, Archie, who attended with his wife, Take.

Archie Miyatake, who took over the family business from his father, has since retired. Son Alan runs the original Toyo Miyatake Studio in San Gabriel and son Gary runs Toyo Photography in Gardena.

It was announced that the family will form the Toyo Legacy Foundation by 2023, which will mark the centennial of the establishment of the Miyatake studio in Little Tokyo. Originally located on land now occupied by Parker Center, the studio was on First Street near San Pedro Street from 1946 to 1985.

Sponsored by the Japanese American Republicans, the luncheon followed a morning presentation on President Reagan’s decision to sign the legislation authorizing individual payments and an official apology to Japanese Americans who were interned. Speakers included Day, former National JACL President Cressey Nakagawa, California Supreme Court Justice Ming Chin, and Menlo Park Mayor Peter Ohtaki.

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