The George and Frank C. Hirahara Collection is considered the largest private collection of photos depicting life in the Japanese American internment camp at Heart Mountain Wyoming. This collection contains over 2000 images taken between January 1943 to November 1945. George Hirahara and his son Frank captured images of camp life and special family milestones such as engagement celebrations, weddings, and family portraits. Patti Hirahara, Frank’s daughter, donated this significant collection of original black and white photographs and negatives to the Washington State University (WSU) Libraries’ Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections (MASC) Department.
In the summer of 1942, the Hiraharas were sent to Heart Mountain Relocation Center with hundreds of others from Washington state’s Yakima Valley. In all, the camp housed over 10,000 Japanese Americans, making it the third largest settlement in Wyoming. As with other relocation centers, Heart Mountain consisted of hundreds of tar paper barracks amidst a dry, rocky landscape. These features provided the backdrop for many of the Hirahara photos.
While George Hirahara worked jobs both inside and outside of the relocation center to earn money, mail order catalogs allowed Hirahara and other internees access to goods that could not be obtained in camp.
It was through Sears and Roebuck that Hirahara ordered cameras, photographic equipment, and supplies. Beneath his family barrack, George Hirahara built a darkroom and photo studio. Through their efforts, the Hiraharas captured people at work and at play, in community and in isolation, in celebration and in mourning.
A considerable portion of the collection depicts high school life in Heart Mountain. As photo editor and photographer for the 1944 Heart Mountain High School Tempo annual, Frank Hirahara took hundreds of photos for use in the annual. Frank Hirahara was elected ASB Commissioner of General Activities, in the Spring of 1944, which provided him a unique vantage point in coordinating student activities and an opportunity to capture a behind the scenes look at the 1943-1944 academic year at Heart Mountain High School.
Additional materials from this and other WSU collections related to Heart Mountain and other detention camps can be found in the MASC's Japanese American Incarceration Digital Collection.
This collection received a 2011 National Park Service grant to digitize and preserve the collection with a select portion of the photographs being put online. Hannah Robinson and Jacki Tyler scanned the photographs. Patti Hirahara provided the initial descriptions of the images. Jacki Tyler created the metadata for the images in consultation with Doug Lambeth and Greg Matthews. Steve Bingo edited the descriptions and Trevor James Bond directed the project.