Three weeks ago, Canadian filmmaker Pia Massie was at the museum’s Doris Duke Theatre to present Just Beyond Hope, her experimental documentary on Japanese internment camps set up by the Canadian and American governments during World War II.
Film curator Abbie Algar and theater manager Taylour Chang invited Massie for lunch at the museum’s cafe. It just so happens that Massie has a great uncle, Virgil Meeker, who lives on O‘ahu and she invited him along.
A retired archeologist who served with the military’s special alpine forces in Japan during World War II, Meeker is now a spry 98. As the two entered the museum, Meeker mentioned to Massie that he used to volunteer at the museum, which was news to her. The subject came up over lunch, and when Algar and Chang learned that Meeker had worked alongside the museum’s staff photographer Shuzo Uemoto from 2001 to 2006, they called Uemoto in his photo studio and invited him to join them.
Uemoto, who has kept in touch with Meeker over the years, brought with him a 1940s Zeiss Ikon Super Ikonta that Meeker had given him to help with archiving the thousands of museum negatives for which Uemoto is responsible.
“It felt right, or as Hawaiians say, pono, returning the camera to Virgil to give to Pia so it would stay in the family as a memento of Virgil and his many travels around the globe,” explains Uemoto. “For me, I had my time to enjoy having the camera over the years. Now, it was time for someone else who knew the value and provenance to enjoy it.”
“Virgil was pleased to see the camera again,” says Algar, “but I think Pia was even more excited about it. She is a film, as opposed to digital, enthusiast and is very interested in analog technology—she actually made a short about super 8 film called Sayonara Super 8.”
Uemoto speaks admiringly of Meeker. “He’s an Indiana Jones kind of guy, who traveled all over the world as an archeologist.” Massie had never seen that side of her great uncle and Uemoto invited her to his studio where he still has an invitation to Meeker’s 90th birthday party which features a 1947 photo of the archeologist in classic pith helmet—a pipe clenched between his teeth—at the base of the Great Pyramid of Giza. The camera used to take the image? The Zeiss Ikon.
What a great occasion to return the Zeiss Ikon to Virgil Meeker’s family as a family keepsake!
I’m sure you know that Virgil’s wife Amy was also a volunteer at the museum for a long time. It so happens that her family was interned (she was born in Canada), along with other foreigners on the other side of the Pacific, in Karuizawa during WWII, which I researched, as you know that our family was there as well.
I wonder if you could let me know Pia’s contact phone number and email address, as I would be very interested to communicate with her.
This is such a great story. For something like this to happen, a lot of time has to pass and the arcs of the lives of the subjects have to be equally long. The random coming together near the end of the arcs is the sweet part. This could just as easily never have happened. I’m glad it did.
Fritz A. Frauchiger
The Contemporary Museum
What a sweet story. It is a given, in my personal experience, that photography can bring people together. Now that extends to the cameras that took the photos, as well.Thanks to HMA for posting that wonderful story.
It was such a lovely lunch. Thanks for all the excellent stories Virg & Shuzo!