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National Park Service grant
Huge WWII internment camp photo collection moving to WSU
Friday, July 8, 2011
By Steve Nakata, Office of Student Affairs and Enrollment
Heart Mountain internee George Hirahara (shown) created this darkroom in his barracks in the fall of 1943 by ordering equipment and supplies from Sears and Roebuck catalog. When his son Frank became photo editor of the 1944 Heart Mountain High School "Tempo” Yearbook, the duo started to expand their darkroom and take professional grade photos of life in camp as well as becoming a portrait photographer for internee families. (Photo by Frank Hirahara, 1945).
Photos above as seen in Insight magazine: left, Frank Hirahara; lower right, teammate Sam Higuchi from 1944-1945 school year; upper right, Tom Hide (center) and Sam Higuchi line up with unidentified teammate to race (photo taken by Frank Hirahara and found in his personal collection).
WSU Trailblazer Frank Hirahara:
Achieved success in track, career
When Frank Hirahara was born in Yakima, Washington, seventeen years had passed since his grandfather
Motokichi Hirahara made a courageous move to decide to come to America from Japan and build a new life for his family in 1909. Frank’s father George was only four years old when he came with his mother and father to Washington State from Wakayama Prefecture.
Frank Hirahara, a WSU alumni, was featured in the 2010 edition of Insight, the magazine of the former WSU Division of Student Affairs, Equity and Diversity. To read the full article click the following link to Insight, then go to page 28 of the publication.
PULLMAN, Wash. – Washington State University will soon become home to the largest private collection of photos taken during World War II at an internment camp for Japanese-Americans in Heart Mountain, Wyoming. In addition, the National Park Service recently announced it is providing WSU with a $49,217 matching grant to help digitize and preserve the collection, which includes more than 2,000 original black and white photo negatives.
The 46,000-acre camp at Heart Mountain housed nearly 11,000 Japanese-Americans detainees from California, Oregon, and Washington during the war, making the camp the third largest city in Wyoming at the time.
Although cameras were initially banned inside the camp, internees were allowed to purchase photography equipment beginning in 1943. The photographs in the collection were taken by George Hirahara and his son Frank between 1943 and 1945 and provide comprehensive and intimate documentation of the daily life in the harsh camp environment.
The collection is being donated to WSU by Frank Hirahara’s daughter, who plans to personally deliver the final batch of the newly discovered negatives to the university in September.
Trevor Bond, head of Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections at WSU, said the Heart Mountain photos constitute one of the most significant photo collections ever donated to the WSU Library.
"This diverse collection of professional-grade photos documents the full range of internment camp life,” Bond said. "Other Heart Mountain internees sought out George and Frank Hirahara for their expertise in photographing such intimate events as engagement celebrations, weddings, and family portraits.”
Like so many other Japanese Americans living along the West Coast during that time, the Hirahara family were relocated from their home in Yakima, Wash, at the outbreak of the war and detained in camps like that at Heart Mountain and other locations across the Western U.S.
At the end of the war, Frank Hirahara, who graduated from high school while in the camp, attended Washington State College (now known as Washington State University), where he majored in electrical engineering and participated on the varsity track team.
After graduation from the university in 1948, he moved to Portland, Oregon, where he worked as an electrical engineer for the Bonneville Power Administration. In his spare time he became a member of the Oregon Camera Club and won a first-place award in competition. His photos were also exhibited in the Club's 56th Annual Salon in 1951 and at the Maryhill Museum of Fine Arts in Maryhill, Wash., as part of the Oregon Camera Club exhibition that same year.
"I am delighted that, with the support of the National Park Service we will be able to preserve and make the Hirahara Collection available for research,” said Bond. "More than 1,000 images will be scanned and made accessible online in a user friendly format.” Bond estimates the electronic images will be accessible online by October 2012.
WSU will use some of the grant funding to create an online exhibit and develop new curriculum based on the Hirahara photographs for courses at the university. The project will help create a new emphasis on the history of Japanese immigration into the central and eastern portions of Washington State, especially in the Yakima Valley before the War.
WSU plans to work with the Yakima Valley Museum in sharing historical information on Japanese pioneers. The Museum created its own 2,000-square-foot display last October due to a contribution from the Hirahara Family. This exhibit features many pioneer families, Heart Mountain history and local artifacts. The exhibit has been named the 2011 Award of Exhibit Excellence from the Washington State Museum Association and will be on display through 2013.
In addition, the Hirahara family’s collection is also a part of the City of Anaheim’s Historical Archives and is the only four generational family in their collection.
The collection tells one family’s story, but also illuminates broader patterns of Japanese-American history.
More information about the National Park Service grant can be found at: http://www.nps.gov/hps/hpg/JACS/index.html.