By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly
Frank Kunishige (1878-1960) was a patient photographer. You have to be patient to catch Seattle’s Smith Tower in snow.
But he also knew how to bring impressive changes out of traditional subject matter. He was no stranger to the female nude study, but he found ways to veil the female form, literally or figuratively, in mystique and sometimes in mid-gesture. Whatever Kunishige shot stayed enveloped in mystery, enigmas inviting repeat viewings.
Frank Kunishige At The Seattle Public Library,” an exhibit running through Dec. 15, at Seattle’s Central Library, showcases about 30 of the Seattle photographer’s works (with additional prints available for viewing online). This marks the first solo exhibition of Kunishige’s work since his death. He was closely associated with the Seattle Camera Club, a largely Japanese American photographer’s group he helped found.
Elizabeth Brown and David F. Martin, two experts on 20th-century photography, appear at the Central Library Thursday, Oct. 22, from 6:30 to 8 p.m., to discuss Kunishige’s work. Brown is the guest curator for the exhibit and former chief curator of Seattle’s Henry Art Gallery.
Martin co-authored “Shadows of a Fleeting World: Pictorial Photography and the Seattle Camera Club,” a 2011 study of Kunishige’s work alongside the work of his compatriots in the Seattle Camera Club.
Kunishige began his life in Japan, and arrived in the United States through San Francisco in 1895. He arrived in Seattle in 1917, married his wife Gin that same year and began working for the photographer Edward S. Curtis.
Most of Kunishige’s work falls under “Pictorialism,” a school of photography that avoids strict realism and often manipulates the image in some way, to further artistic effect and to call attention to the artificiality of the photographic process. The photographer used soft focus as one pictorialist tactic, although he also printed his work on “textra tissue,” a rough-surfaced paper he designed and had custom-made. The distinctive interaction between the image as image and the textured paper became a trademark.
The Seattle Camera Club, founded in 1924, included Kunishige and other Japanese photographers including Kyo Koike, Yukio Morinaga, Iwao Matsushita and Fred Y. Ogasawara. Ella McBride, who joined later, was their first non-Japanese member. Kunishige spent World War II interned at the Minidoka camp and lived in Twin Falls, Idaho, for some time, then returned to Seattle and died here. (end)
“Frank Kunishige at The Seattle Public Library” runs through Dec. 15 at the Level 8 Gallery, Central Library, 1000 Fourth Ave. For more information, visit http://cdm16118.contentdm.oclc.org.
Andrew Hamlin can be reached at email@example.com.