Photographer Gary Miyatake Passes at 69

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By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu Senior Editor

Members of Cesar Chavez’s family were among those attending a dedication ceremony for Gary Miyatake’s portrait of Chavez, held at the Japanese American National Museumi in March 2015. From left: Christine Chavez of the Cesar Chavez Foundation; Margaret Salazar-Porzio from the Smithsonian Institution; Paul Chavez of the Cesar Chavez Foundation; Miyatake; and Rep. Maxine Waters. (MARIO GERSHOM REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

GARDENA — Gary Toyo Miyatake, a third-generation photographer of the famed Miyatake family, passed away at Little Company of Mary Hospital in Torrance on Dec. 29 after suffering a stroke. He was 69.

Miyatake was named after his grandfather Toyo Miyatake and began working in the family business in Little Tokyo at the age of 17. As Toyo’s first grandson, he had the opportunity to learn first-hand the techniques created and developed by his illustrious grandfather. He went on to graduate from the Art Center College of Design and eventually opened his own studio, Toyo Photography, in Gardena, where he applied the knowledge gained at Toyo’s side to his own work.

In March 2015, Miyatake’s portrait of labor leader Cesar E. Chavez was acquired by the Smithsonian Institution to become part of its Civil Rights and Reform Collection during a ceremony at the Japanese American National Museum.

Miyatake took the photo of Chavez in 1993 at the 30th anniversary celebration of the United Farm Workers. In the photo, Chavez is clad in a black jacket, with the red and black logo of the UFW on his chest, his figure framed in a halo of light. Chavez passed away approximately one month later at 66; the photo is believed to be one of the few of Chavez in a UFW jacket.

Miyatake’s daughter Joy said that her father was inspired by art, pointing to an open book of paintings by early 20th-century portrait artist John Singer Sargent in his Gardena studio. While the studio was cluttered, Joy said her father’s portraiture was the opposite, clean and focused.

Gary Miyatake was known for taking portraits of many public officials, including the late Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley. (Photo courtesy of Toyo Studio)

“He grew up in a photo studio and he studied under his grandfather Toyo Miyatake. He was very proud of the fact,” Joy said. “When I look at his portraits, they are focused, clean. The lighting is on point. His work spoke through his images.”

Other noteworthy individuals who sat for Miyatake include the late Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, Rep. Maxine Waters, photographer Ansel Adams, former Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, and sportscaster Vin Scully and his wife Sandra.

In Gardena, Miyatake became known as the go-to photographer for elected officials.

Councilmember Rodney Tanaka said Miyatake supported many of the city’s local nonprofit events.

“Gary’s passing was a complete shock. He would always call me with questions and information on issues he thought were for the betterment of our community,” Tanaka said. “On behalf of the City of Gardena, Mayor Tasha Cerda and the entire City Council, we thank Gary for his dedication and service to our community through Toyo Photography. Condolences to his daughter and family.”

Shortly before his passing, Cesar Chavez, wearing his iconic UFW jacket, posed for Gary Miyatake. (Photo courtesy of Toyo Studio)

Last June, Miyatake invited Jeremy Lim, a local photographer, to apprentice with him to learn studio photography. Lim said that despite COVID-19, the studio remained busy.

“By the end, I considered him a friend, as well as a master photographer and teacher,” Lim said. “It was beyond preserving history, it was about the artistic form he gave to people. He always made people look their best. He always instilled in me, ‘Make sure people look good.’”

Some of Miyatake’s portraits are displayed in the windows of Toyo Photography, 1305 W. Gardena Blvd., Gardena, CA 90247. Joy said she intends to keep the studio open for at least the next six months, under the management of Omar Casasola.

In February 2019, Miyatake gave a portrait of Emperor Akihito taken by his grandfather to Consul General Akira Muto. He had hoped to take a portrait of the current Emperor Naruhito.

“It was on his bucket list,” Joy said.

A memorial service will be held on July 14, Miyatake’s birthday. He is survived by daughters, Joy (David) Miyatake-Frankel and Jaquelyn Hiromi Miyatake; mother, Takeko Miyatake; brother Alan (April) Miyatake; and other relatives.

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1 Comment

  1. I had Gary as student at Art and through met the whole family. Pleae provide details of the memorial service in July. I will attend.

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