Yukio Morinaga was born on January 11, 1888 in Yamaguchi Prefecture, Japan. After emigrating to the U.S. he moved to Seattle in 1907. He purportedly studied at the Eastman School of Photography in Rochester, N.Y., but due to a lack of extant records, this has not been verified. After holding various jobs including seafood packaging and store clerk, he accepted a position at the Main Drug Store by 1923. He and fellow photographer Hiromu Kira worked for the store’s owner, Mr. Yasukichi Chiba who was also an amateur photographer and like the two men, a founding member of the SCC. Morinaga and Kira worked in the camera department of the store and they often socialized with Dr. Koike who had his medical practice a few blocks away. Koike and other SCC members relied on Morinaga’s darkroom expertise to print many of their exhibition photographs.
Morinaga began exhibiting his work at the Frederick & Nelson Salons in 1924 and again in 1925 where he won Honorable Mention for a work titled “Tower Of Blessing”. He was very active with the SCC and exhibited in all of their salons with the exception of 1929. During that time he served on several committee’s including secretary of the organization.
Offering a different perspective from other regional Pictorialists, his rich bromide prints display a preference for urban subjects and the activities of city life. They are less idealized and express a more modern outlook. Like the other key members of the SCC, his work was also exhibited in many of the leading international photographic salons of the day.
In 1927, two of his prints were included in the First International Photographic Salon of Japan and one titled “In the Harbor” was illustrated in the catalogue. A few months later, this same work was included in the 71st Annual of the Royal Photographic Society held at the Smithsonian Institution.
In the 1927-28 seasons of pictorial exhibitions, the American Annual of Photography listed him as the second most exhibited photographer in the world, trailing slightly behind Dr. Koike.
Through his activities with the SCC, Morinaga met and befriended Virna Haffer who maintained a successful commercial studio in Tacoma. He became her indispensable assistant, developing and printing the majority of her works in his small, third floor studio apartment in Seattle’s Nihonmachi. Besides working with Haffer, he supported himself by advertising as a photo finisher beginning in 1929. Living frugally, he slept on a small bed in the corner of his apartment where all of his photographic work was produced with a hand-made enlarger.
Following his internment at Minidoka, Morinaga relocated to Tacoma, Washington where his friend Virna Haffer had purchased a small house for him in which he could live and work. As part of Haffer’s extended family, he resumed his employment with her and accepted work from other commercial studios in Tacoma as well.
In an act of defiance toward the government that had betrayed him, Morinaga refused to pay any more taxes after his forced incarceration at Minidoka. Haffer remained a source of strength and support, caring for him in his later years until in desperation, he starved himself to death in 1968.
Yukio Morinaga never married and was survived by a brother living in Japan at the time of his death.
Although he produced hundreds of exhibition prints during his lifetime, only about thirty of his photographs have survived through the efforts of Haffer and her descendents. Several of these works are in the collection of the Washington State Historical Society.