In the early 1900s, groups of Japanese Americans formed photography clubs along the Pacific coast from Los Angeles to Seattle. Their photographs were exhibited and published internationally to considerable acclaim, and admired by other photographers including Edward Weston and László Moholy-Nagy. Through artfully arranged images, the photographers represented the Japanese cultural heritage that they knew and loved; at the same time, their dynamic compositions of abstract forms contributed to the progress of modern art both at home and abroad. Sadly, much of this output was lost or destroyed during the forced incarceration of Japanese Americans at the onset of World War II.
Making Waves: Japanese American Photography, 1920–1940 takes an in-depth look at a lost legacy. In 103 striking prints from the 1920s and ’30s, the classic subjects of still life, nature, landscape, and portraiture are represented, along with more adventurous forays into abstraction and formal experimentation. The vintage photographs, largely by Los Angeles photographers, are supplemented by artifacts and ephemera that help bring the era to life, such as publications that were put out by the Japanese American photography clubs, national and international (including Japanese, German, French, Soviet, and British) publications in which the photographers’ work was reproduced, film negatives, awards, and vintage cameras.
Making Waves commemorates the 30th anniversary of the first comprehensive exhibition of Japanese American photography, titled Japanese Photography in America, 1920–1940. Organized in 1986 by Dennis Reed, that exhibition traveled to several prestigious venues, including the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Making Waves, also organized by Reed, is the first comprehensive examination of this material since the 1986 exhibition. It features iconic images from the first exhibition plus many additional photographs discovered in the intervening years.
Dennis Reed is a writer, curator, and collector who specializes in American photography from the 1920s and ’30s. A leading expert in Asian American photography, Reed is Professor Emeritus of Art at Los Angeles Valley College. Making Waves is accompanied by a 160-page catalog featuring an essay by the curator.
Making Waves: Japanese American Photography, 1920-1940: A Preview of an Exhibition at the Japanese American National Museum
Learn more about prewar Nikkei photographers and get a preview of the exhibition on Discover Nikkei.