What became of the members and the work of the Seattle Camera Club.
What became of Seattle Camera Club members and their work?
The disappearance of work by photographers who were sent to internment camps was considerable. In San Francisco and Los Angeles, the destruction of this legacy was close to complete. In Seattle, much was also lost — but a significant body of work survived for several reasons. Here’s the scoop on the fate of seven key photographers in the show:
Dr. Kyo Koike: Dr. Koike (standing second from left in the photo above), thanks to his medical practice, had the funds to continue his photography even after SCC folded. His internment at Minidoka in Idaho undermined his health, and he died in 1947, shortly after his return to Seattle. He left all his work and his meticulous records of the club’s activities and publications to fellow photographer Iwao Matsushita.
Frank Asakichi Kunishige: Kunishige and his wife, Gin, were also interned in Minidoka and remained in Idaho for a while after their release. There Kunishige, one of the few SCC members who had made his living as a photographer, held several exhibitions. He returned to Seattle in 1950, in poor health, and died in 1960. His widow later married member Iwao Matsushita.
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Iwao Matsushita: Matsushita was held in Montana, where for more than two years he was separated from his emotionally fragile wife, Hanaye (held at Minidoka). Upon their release, they returned to Seattle, where Matsushita, a former teacher of Japanese at the University of Washington, was offered a job in the UW’s Far Eastern Library. Hanaye died in 1965 and Matsushita married Gin Kunishige in 1967. It was through Matsushita’s connection with Robert Monroe, head of UW Libraries, Special Collections, that much of the Seattle Camera Club’s legacy survives. Along with photos and archival material, Monroe acquired Matsushita’s 8-mm films, which include lively scenes of 1930s Seattle, now on view in the lobby of the Henry.
Yukio Morinaga: Fewer than three dozen of Morinaga’s photographs survive, out of hundreds. Fellow SCC member Virna Haffer, who ran her own studio in Tacoma, bought him a house and gave him work following his internment at Minidoka. But he was defiant of the government that had incarcerated him, refusing to pay taxes. In a final desperate gesture, he starved himself to death at age 80 in 1968.
Virna Haffer: Haffer continued in her experimental vein, exhibiting her work internationally while working as a commercial photographer in Tacoma. In the 1960s, her interest shifted to photograms (a way of making “photographic prints … without the use of a camera or negative”). She died in 1974.
Soichi Sunami: Even though Sunami was living on the East Coast during the internment-camp era, he destroyed much of his early work, including all his nudes, “for fear of repercussion from the government,” author David F. Martin reports. He died in 1971. Along with his work for MoMA, he left a number of dance studies, housed at the New York Public Library and Jerome Robbins Dance Division.
Ella E. McBride: The fate of McBride’s work is the biggest surprise here. As author Nicolette Bromberg explains, “The Modernist sharp-focus documentary style of photography dominated the art world in the decades after the 1920s, and over time Pictorial photography came to be regarded [as] outmoded and uninspired.” McBride’s work, firmly in the Pictorialist school, lost favor. She continued to operate a studio in Seattle into her 90s and was profiled on her 100th birthday in The Seattle Times in 1962. After her death at 103, an archive of her negatives was put up for donation to any institution willing to house them. The Museum of History & Industry picked out “a random selection,” Martin tells us. The rest were destroyed — and with them, much Seattle history.
Michael Upchurch, Seattle Times arts writer