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Toyo Miyatake

February 20,2009 I somehow got it in my head that I wanted to take a certain photograph. A photograph that I believed would required a long exposure in daylight, and thus would require a certain filter. A certain expensive filter I do not currently own. I've been waiting to buy that certain filter, so I could take that certain photograph, but in the mean time I haven't taken any other pictures. I don't consider myself too much of an equipment geek, but I must admit, even for me it's easy to get caught up in equipment.

The photo of Toyo Miyatake was taken by Ansel Adams during World War II. In the harsh Mojave Desert, Adams used heavy and cumbersome large format camera equipment. The media was film. The lighting was natural. The focus manual. The exposure calculated by experience and brain power (no one told me math was involved). I started to ask myself, do I really need special equipment to practice photography?

Actually the point isn't even Adams. The point is the subject of Adams portrait - Toyo Miyatake. Miyatake was a studio photographer in Los Angeles; studio photography requires special cameras, special lighting, and special no how. But during World War II, Miyatake was forced to put all that equipment in storage and was interned into the American version of a concentration camp - or as the government called it a "relocation camp for persons of Japanese decent".

Miyatake smuggled a single lens into the camp, and with it he built a camera out of spare pieces of wood. McGyver would be proud. Miyatake's photographs obviously are of historical importance, documenting life for Japanese American's who lost their freedom and liberty during a trying time in American history. But beyond the historical value of the photographs there is the inspiring drive and determination Miyatake showed towards his craft. There in lies the artistic value of Miyatake's Manzanar photographs. The story behind the picture.

So, why is it, after contemplating on Miyatake and Adams, all that I'm thinking about is that I need to get a beret. ;)

-Scott

Photo: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Ansel Adams, photographer, [reproduction number, e.g., LC-DIG-ppprs-00257]

     

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