Richard Murakami has been volunteering at JANM for 21 years and documenting the museum’s history for almost as long. He doesn’t claim to be a photographer or even in charge of JANM’s corps of volunteer photographers; rather, he prefers to think of himself as the museum’s event photo coordinator and librarian.
It all started in 1994, when Richard attended the members’ opening reception for America’s Concentration Camps: Remembering the Japanese Experience and noticed that no one was taking pictures. With a Canon camera that he’d brought from home, he began shooting. He then had two sets of photographs printed and gave the prints and the negatives to JANM for the purpose of starting a repository of images of this type. This task that he saw as a necessity soon grew into his main role and contribution to the museum.
Richard has never taken any photography lessons. “I’m too lazy to go to class,” he says. “So how I learned is, I would take the prints to Kimura Photo Mart and I would say, how can I improve this photo? And they would tell me what to do, and that’s how I learned.”
A total of 12 photographers, including Richard, now help to document the many events and occasions that happen at this busy museum. In the past seven years, they have only missed three JANM events. “I just think these photographers are really great!” Richard enthuses. “You know I can’t say enough good things about them. I really praise and brag about them a lot, they are so good.”
Some of the volunteer photographers (Steve Fujimoto, Russell Kitagawa, Gary Ono, Richard Murakami, and Richard Watanabe) recently sponsored the Upper Level Members Reception for the opening of Before They Were Heroes: Sus Ito’s World War II Images, an exhibition of photographs taken by Ito while he was on a tour of duty through Europe as a member of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
The reception was a natural fit for the group since the exhibition is about photography, but for Richard, it was also about honoring the 442nd veterans. “They opened the door for people like me who followed, so I owe them a lot,” he said.
Like Richard, Sus Ito also considers himself an amateur photographer. “I think he has an eye for photography,” Richard reflects. “Some people just point and shoot. With Sus, it’s what he took and when he took it that’s important. And whoever picked out those photos to include in the exhibition and tell the story—that person has an eye too.”
Richard’s official day to volunteer at the museum is every Friday, but you can often find him here multiple days of the week, sitting in his office in front of his Apple computer. In addition to coordinating the volunteer photographers and photographing events himself, he also inventories and organizes all the images. “When staff members need photos, they ask me and I find them. I’m probably the only one who really knows where they are.”
This post was researched and written by JANM Executive Assistant Nicole Miyahara. In addition to her duties at JANM, Nicole is an ethnographic documentary filmmaker who is currently working on The Making of a King, a documentary that explores the world of drag kings, the lesser-known counterpart to drag queens.