Family-Run Photo Studio Has Been Capturing Maui’s Community for 87 Years

Melissa Tanji
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

Rick Shimomura says people still call him “Mr. Nagamine.”

The Maui photographer doesn’t mind, though. After all, “Mr. Nagamine” was his maternal grandfather, Harold Nagamine Sr., who founded Nagamine Photo Studio in Lahaina in 1931 and later opened a studio in Wailuku.

The Lahaina studio closed decades ago, but Shimomura continues to run the Wailuku studio in a newer building with the same name.

It is definitely an accomplishment for a small, family-run business to survive for 87 years, but can a local photo studio survive another generation?

“I think so,” said the 59-year-old Kula resident. “In order to have a future, that person has to be constantly changing and looking at what’s viable.”

One of the biggest obstacles Shimomura faces these days is that everyone seems to have a camera in their Smartphone.

“Right now, photography, I would say, is at its peak in popularity. Everyone wants to take pictures. Everybody takes pictures. Some of these people think they can do it (professionally). That’s the DIY (do-it-yourself) age now. And I’m guilty of it.”

Shimomura says he sometimes watches YouTube videos to learn how to repair something instead of getting professional help.

“For the photographer who wants to stay in business, they just got to be consistent on their marketing and business practices and know what the consumers want,” he says.

And, as his grandfather did, Shimomura has evolved with the times. He no longer focuses on family portraits and camera equipment sales like his grandfather did.

Shimomura’s mainstay now is student photos for schools. To keep up with the times, the students’ photos are offered in both digital and print formats for customers to order.

His photo packages also include photo key chains and, next school year, Nagamine’s will introduce PopSockets, which are expanding cellphone grips and stands. His PopSockets will feature the student’s photo on it.

“The millenials, that’s what they want — they want to see their picture and their kids’ pictures on stuff,” Shimomura said.

It’s a far cry from when the “pretty-much” self-taught Harold Nagamine Sr. opened his studio in Lahaina.

According to a 2003 Japanese American National Museum gala dinner program recognizing multigenerational businesses, Nagamine, who arrived in Hawai‘i from Okinawa when he was 10, took correspondence courses in photography and apprenticed with another local studio, Okumura Photo Studio. Nagamine began his photography career when he was 20 years old.

His first studio overlooked Lahaina Harbor. He then moved to Lahainaluna Road in the late 1950s.

Photography was a luxury at the time, as Japanese immigrants working on the plantations did not make a lot of money. Still, families spent money on photography.

Shimomura surmises that immigrants in Hawai‘i were still planning on returning to Japan after working in the fields and making lots of money. As they settled down and started raising families, however, they realized that their meager earnings would not allow them to return to Japan. Their lives would be in Hawai‘i.

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Melissa Tanji has been a reporter for The Maui News since 2000. The Maui native earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa.

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