The Seattle Camera Club (1924-1929)
In my mind, there are two camps of thought: those who believe your life is already mapped out for you and those who believe your life is carved out by the actions you take.
I am not sure which one I believe more. What I do know is that my being gifted ‘Shadows of a Fleeting World’, written by David F. Martin and Nicolette Bromberg, has enriched my appreciation of art in a very beautiful and arresting way.
The book describes how the Seattle Camera Club was formed and provides an insight into their lives long after the club disbanded. Thanks to the club’s members, their work helped pictorial photography become a recognised art form in the salons of that era, formerly only reserved for paintings. Indeed, in 1928, of the ten most displayed photographers globally, seven were SCC members
Most important of all the book shows their work.
By the time you finish reading ‘Shadows’ you not only feel you have viewed some truly wonderful photographs but that you have gained an insight into these artists’ lives and what they were trying to achieve.
Below are some of the key members and an extract taken from ‘Shadows’ which tells you a little more about the Club.
In the mid-1920s a group of immigrant Japanese-American Pictorialist photographers in Seattle came together to form the Seattle Camera Club in order to share their love of photography. While the club only lasted from 1924-1929, it was amazingly successful. Members exhibited their work all over the world and their photographs were widely published and won many awards. Sadly, most of their work was lost over time for various reasons, including the internment of the Japanese during WWII.
The activities of SCC photographers paralleled those of members of Japanese immigrant photography clubs in Los Angeles and San Francisco, but the SCC was distinguished by its enthusiastic and successful efforts to recruit non-Japanese members and by its monthly journal, Notan, which more than any other factor preserved SCC activities for posterity. Despite the pervasive racism that prevented Japanese immigrants from gaining citizenship, the work of SCC members was well received, finding prizes, purchasers, and general acclaim. Acknowledging the prominence of West Coast camera club photographers, the editor of the 1928 The American Annual of Photography wrote, “the influence of this group on our Pacific coast has put a lasting mark on photography in this country, the repercussions of which are echoing throughout the world.”
The word Pictorialist was used to describe both the photographic style as well as the photographer who used the medium for artistic expression. The range of styles associated with Pictorialism followed parallel painting trends such as Tonalism, Symbolism and especially Impressionism whose preoccupation with transient light effects was perfectly suited to photography. To achieve their results, the photo artists used innovative darkroom techniques and processes to manipulate their negatives and prints into unique compositions that were compatible with their contemporaries in the fields of painting and printmaking. (Source: University of Washington, David Martin).
After reading ‘Shadows’ I felt compelled to see the photographs for myself. Therefore, I flew to Seattle, arranged an appointment with Nicolette and hopped on a bus to the UW Libraries’ Special Collections department. Nicolette welcomed me warmly, provided me with a pair of white gloves and showed me to a desk. She then pointed to a bookcase on wheels which contained 14 archival boxes and I proceeded to spend that Friday afternoon with the entire collection of Dr. Kyo Koike’s photographs. He was meticulous with his record keeping and next to the photographs he submitted to salons and exhibitions, Koike would append the invite or award of each event. I also saw all of Frank Kunishige’s work, quite different in style to that of Koike. Kunishige made his own paper and I had to be extremely careful when handing his photographs.
After enjoying a 4-day Yosemite backpacking tour, I returned to Seattle to make a second visit to the UW and view Matsushita’s photographs. As well as his pictorial work, there are family albums and many photos with his wife, Hanaye, and Koike as they hike on Mt. Rainier.
On the day I left Seattle, I paid a special visit to David’s ‘friends’.
Somehow, the learning from all the words I had read and the photographs I had seen, finally came to life when I opened the door to the ‘Into the Light’ chamber and saw before me the columbarium which contains the remains of Kunishige and Matsushita. I wasn’t prepared for it.
I spent some time talking to these photographers and made a promise that I would try my best to raise awareness of their work and those of the other SCC members. They’ve inspired one of my songs and currently two ‘works-in-progress’, so they might inspire others.
To that end I decided to create a special site within my website called ‘Sweet and Easy-The Untold Story‘. The main focus of the site is to tell the story of the SCC in an appealing yet informative manner. Thanks to the support of David and the UW, as well as Amy Purdie and Jan Broderick the web designer and web master respectively, the website launched on the morning of 14 September.
I sought to gather all the sites, locations and mentions of the SCC scattered across the internet and place them in one central location so that people can truly get a sense of these great artists. It’s been a labour of love and I only hope you see through my eyes what I was trying to achieve.
They say art is permanent energy. If so, and I am able to raise awareness of the work of the Seattle Camera Club (www.seattlecameraclub.com), then their energy will be around for most of my lifetime and beyond. That thought makes me happy.
The UW website shows only a small portion of the digitised collection and funds are much needed to digitise the rest of their work so that they can be enjoyed for future generations. See the page on the site entitled ‘Here Today, Gone Tomorrow’ which tells you a little more.
In the words of David ‘I hope you enjoy the life and art of these amazing people’. I do.
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