Maui Arts & Entertainment

Nisei Veterans to Host Exhibit Featuring Photography From Japanese Internment

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The Nisei Veterans Memorial Center will host the exclusive Hawai’i premiere of a free exhibit featuring the work of renowned photographer Toyo Miyatake. The exhibit, called “TOYO: Behind the Glass Eye,” will run from Feb. 16 to June 14 at the NVMC Education Center in Kahului.

Miyatake was a Japanese photographer whose work received numerous awards and was featured in prestigious exhibitions, including the 1926 London International Photography Exhibition. He was born in Japan but moved to the US with his family when he was a teenager. While in the US he developed a passion for photography and opened the Toyo Miyatake studio. In 1942, he was forced into the Manzanar internment camp in California with his wife and four children.

Against government orders, Miyatake smuggled a camera lens into the camp and secretly captured images of camp life. He was able to get film into the camp with the help of a hardware salesman who was his former client. Miyatake eventually asked the camp director if he could set up a photo studio. Although the director granted him permission, Miyatake could only shoot photos with the supervision of a caucasian assistant. The restriction was later lifted and Miyatake became the designated official camp photographer, capturing photos of everyday life at Manzanar.

The exhibit contrasts pieces of Miyatake’s pre-World War II photography with his images of life at the internment camp. According to NVMC executive director Jill Tokuda, the camp was one of 10 internment camps where over 110,000 Japanese Americans were incarcerated from 1942 to 1945.

“Looking through the lens of the past is essential if we are to learn from our mistakes, and perpetuate the values of those who came before us as we look to the future,” Tokuda said. “The Nisei Veterans Memorial Center is humbled to showcase the Hawaii premiere of the Toyo Exhibit, creating meaningful opportunities for our community to come together to learn, heal, and be inspired by the courageous acts of the past.”


Although Miyatake retired in 1960, he continued to carry a camera with him everyday and his reputation grew both in Los Angeles and abroad. In 1976, the Japanese government decorated him with the Order of the Rising Sun.


Miyatake died in 1979, but his legacy lives on. In 2011, a street in Little Tokyo in Los Angeles was named Toyo Miyatake Way in honor of Miyatakeʻs contributions to the community. Miyatake is also the subject of two documentary films, Infinite Shades of Gray (2001), and Toyo’s Camera (2008).

Miyatake’s grandson Alan will give a talk on the opening day of the exhibit on Saturday, Feb. 16 at 1:30 p.m. at the NVMC. On Sunday, Feb. 17,  Los Angeles’ Japanese American Cultural and Community Center artistic director Hirokazu Kosaka will give a talk at 1:30 p.m. at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center’s Morgado Hall. Both events are free but anyone interested in attending must make reservations. Reservations can be made by contacting (808) 244-6862. NVMC’s Education Center is located at 665 Kahului Beach Rd. in Kahului.

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