J. Paul Getty Museum

Japanese-American Photographs

Formed in Los Angeles’s Little Tokyo neighborhood, the Japanese Camera Pictorialists of California (JCPC) members were a mix of amateurs, hobbyists, and professional photographers.

Hiromu Kira’s Mums

Taizo Kato arrived in Los Angeles in 1906 at the age of nineteen. One of the area’s earliest art photographers, he was also a painter and writer. Together with his domestic partner, he owned The Korin, a business with several downtown locations to serve clients’ needs. These included a camera store, a film processing lab, and a main shop and gallery that sold stationery, frames, and works of art in various media. Kato’s sudden death in 1924 meant that he never joined the JCPC, which was formalized in 1926.

The standards upheld by the JCPC were rigorous. Members shared darkrooms, gathered for formal critiques, and mounted small exhibitions. At the time, such clubs were vital centers for mentorship and study as very few art schools offered photography curriculum. Following initial employment as a gardener when he arrived in the United States, Kumezu Ota opened a photo studio in Pasadena in 1921. Although he was not a member of the JCPC—possibly because he had access to his own darkroom—he did exhibit his work alongside its members, as well as in salons throughout the United States, Europe, and Japan. This still life of gourds has been artfully lit from the left.

The JCPC members’ work was frequently included in selective photography catalogs and international yearbooks. Salon exhibitions in Paris (1929) and London (1933) both featured an outsized number of images by West Coast Japanese-American photographers, and admirers included such artists as Helen Levitt, Margarethe Mather, László Moholy-Nagy, and Edward Weston.

Also not a member of the JCPC, Asahachi Kono worked at the T. Iwata Art Store on East First Street, an important source of supplies and gathering place for photographers throughout Los Angeles. This photograph, one of his most celebrated, appeared in multiple international salons the year it was made, including those in London, Paris, Tokyo, and the United States.

“Three Gulls” was another much admired image. Kono was particularly proud that he hadn’t staged the scene, but was able to capture the three gulls in one frame.

Three Gulls by Asahachi Kono

This photograph bears a label on the verso indicating that it was exhibited in the 2nd Annual Pacific Coast Photographic Salon in San Diego in 1929; It was also exhibited in salons in Pittsburgh and Chicago the following year.

Three Gulls (reverse) by Asahachi Kono

However, World War II brought the club and the members’ burgeoning successes to an abrupt end. In December 1941, as part of the Enemy Alien Act, cameras were declared contraband in the hands of Japanese Americans, and house raids followed.

A few months later, over 120,000 Japanese Americans were forced to leave their homes and businesses behind, boarding buses that would take them to holding centers, and then internment camps. In the scramble to pack their entire lives into a single suitcase, many photographers hid, sold, or destroyed their cameras and their artwork.

Hiromu Kira was initially associated with the Seattle Camera Club before moving to Los Angeles in 1926, where he found employment at the T. Iwata Art Store. Although he never joined the JCPC, he associated with several of its members. During World War II he was incarcerated at the Gila River Relocation Center in Arizona. After the war, he worked as a photographic retoucher for Disney, RKO Radio Pictures, and Columbia.

Forty years after the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, Los Angeles-based artist, professor, and collector Dennis Reed began researching West Coast Japanese-American photography clubs. Slowly, by tracking down friends and relatives of the artists, Reed eventually assembled a collection of 79 photographs made between 1919 and 1940. 

Reed’s research also led him to photographers associated with camera clubs based in San Diego, San Francisco, and Seattle. Dr. Kyo Koike, who had attended medical school in Japan before immigrating to the United States in 1916, had a successful medical practice in Seattle. Koike was instrumental in founding the Seattle Camera Club in 1924 and was the group’s primary spokesman, as well as one of the most widely published and exhibited photographers of the period. This image of a lone rower was likely taken in Mount Rainier National Park, a favorite destination for Koike.

Some of the images that Reed collected are very picturesque and have decidedly Japanese sensibilities—a high horizon line, vertical format, long shadows. Many photographs were made during nature excursions, often in one’s own backyard. This image of two figures strolling lakeside was taken in Hollenbeck Park in the Boyle Heights district of Los Angeles, just east of downtown. Ringed by trees and featuring an arched bridge—the likely vantage point from which Taizo Kato captured this scene—the manmade lake was a popular destination for strollers, boaters, and photographers alike.

Taizo Kato’s Sunlight & Shadow

Some photographs in the collection depict common Japanese subjects, like ceramics and flowers, while others have Modernist influences. Along with other Japanese-American photographers based in Los Angeles, Hiromu Kira had the opportunity to view exhibitions of Edward Weston’s work in Little Tokyo in 1927 and 1931. This inspired him to work in a more Modernist vein, which we can see in this study of glasses and their reflections and shadows.

Kira’s curves

Other photographs, like this one by Tomihisa Furuya, have harder lines and darker tones, further underscoring a Modernist aesthetic. Furuya was a founding member of the JCPC, employed as a laundry worker, first in Los Angeles, then in Pasadena. He shipped his photographs to and from exhibitions using the Pasadena laundry address. Like Kono’s Three Gulls, this print was also included in the 2nd Annual Pacific Coast Photographic Salon in San Diego in 1929.

Furuya’s Study

Jeanne (Spring)

A chic young woman in a day dress with floral accents holds a parasol against a background of lush foilage. She looks straight ahead, a picture of poise and detchment even as she seems fully aware of the viwer’s admiring gaze.

By the end of the 19th century, the painting had become wildly known as Le Printemps, or Spring. But when artist Edouard Manet first exhibited it in the Paris Salon of 1882—to much critical acclaim—he simply entitiled it Jeanne.

The mysterious young woman was the reputed Parisina beauty, occasional model, and aspiring actress, Anne Darloud (1865-1937), who went by the name of Jeanne or Jane Demarsy. A few yaers after she made her debut as Manet’s model in the painting, she caught the public’s eye on the Paris stage for her portrayal of Venus in Jacques Offenbach’s Orphée aux enfers.

Aside from Jeanne’s charm, Spring also showcases Manet’s mastery of his medium. The painting exhibits a marvelous range of brushwork, from the delicate floral touches on the dress to the smooth handling and deliberate contours of Jeanne’s face to the broader, looser strokes of the backdrop. The painting’s sensual handling and bright, vibrant palette evoke the pleasures of the season it celebrates.

From Jeanne’s dress and bonnet to her flowering backdrop floral motifs signaled her fashionable femininity, to the point that critics described her as a living flower or a bouquet, a word also commonly used to describe painting that emphasized the seductive appeal of color. Flowers serve a variety of purposes in Manet’s work and appear in different mediums and formats., from small-scale still lifes in oil and watercolor, to intimate pastel portraits of fashionable women, to large-scale oil paintings destined for the Salon like Jeanne.

When composing this painting, Manet had in view both the latest fashion trends and old artistic traditions. An avoid connosieur of feminine courture, he reportedly pierced together Jeanne’s ensemble himself by scouring dressmakers’ and milleners’ shops. Posing his model in the studio, however, he referred to artistocratic portrait conentions of the early Italian Renaissance, presenting her half-length, in in sharp profile, and against shallow backdrop.

Manet’s paintings were rejected by the Salon or met with controversy for more than two decades. Spring was one of the few public and critical successes of his Salon career, a career that ended tragically wit his death a year later in 1883. More than just an up-to-the-minute fashion plate, Manet’s Spring was conceived as a picture for the ages, summarizing his modern epoch through the archetypal figure of the beautiful Parisienne.

The Destruction of Pharoah’s Host

Executed in 1836, this large-scale watercolor is a prime example of the English artist John Martin’s (1789-1854) highly dramatic narrative compositions that feature minute figures in apocalyptic landscapes.

Martin depicted the destruction of the pharaoh’s army. Before a vast expanse of sea and sky, Moses raises his staff, summoning the waves to engulf the barely visible soldiers, horses, and chariots. The subject of this watercolor comes from this biblical book of Exodus (14:26-31).

“Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea went back to its place. The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen–the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived. But the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and one their left. That day the Lord saved Israel from the hands of the Egypitans, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore.”

The ghostly figure next to Moses may be his brother, Aaron or may represent a correction of change to the composition made by the artist that has become more visible over time as the drawing materials have undergone chemical changes, becoming more translucent and/or undergone a color shift.

A blood red sun rises just above the horizon at center, tracing the silhouettes of two tiny pyramids, reminders of Egyptian might reduced to utter insignificance. With its large scale, alternating the use of watercolor and oil paint, and dramatic subject matter—ideally suited to the artist’s fever dream vision of the world–this drawing wields all the visual power of Martin’s best works.

Faith Art:

Torah

The Torah is the central sacred text of Judaism. In the strictest sense, the word refers to the Pentateuch (“five books” in Greek), which contains the books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Illuminated copies of the Hebrew Bible in codex form (rather than Torah scrolls) began to appear in the mid-thirteenth century.

In northern Europe, these manuscripts served the needs of members of the Ashkenazi Jewish community who had settled in the areas along the Rhine River (now western Germany and northern France). Lavishly illustrated Hebrew manuscripts are exceedingly rare, since Jewish artisans were forbidden by law to join painting guilds. Hebrew manuscripts were often written by itinerant Jewish scribes and illuminated by local (sometimes Christian) artists. Illumination of the Hebrew Bible centers on the calligraphic forms of Hebrew letters, such as initials, word panels, or decorative frames around blocks of text.

Menorah

The exhibits were intriguing.

REFERENCE: Google Arts & Cultures

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