Hisao E. Kimura
To Roof Garden, c 1930
Vintage bromide print
13 3/4” x 10 3/4”
Museum of Science and Industry label affixed to verso
August 23, 2021
PHOTOGRAPH OF THE WEEK is currently celebrating Japanese Americans who pioneered the photographic art form in the early 20th century—this week we feature Hisao E. Kimura (1902–1975).
Reviewing the 1989 exhibition "Japanese Photography in America 1920-1930" at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Jo Ann Lewis singled out Hisao E. Kimura's work in her piece for the Washington Post. Lewis observed in Kimura’s work “a startling kinship to the art and photography of New York in the '30s”. Indeed this image shares an affinity with the oblique angles and urban humanism seen in the work of Photo League members such as Arnold Eagle and Berenice Abbott.
Hisao E. Kimura was a charter member of the Japanese Camera Pictorialists of California, a group formed by photographers in 1926 in Los Angeles’s Little Tokyo neighborhood. Kimura exhibited prolifically in the prewar era and became a member of the Royal Photographic Society in 1936.
The Little Tokyo section of downtown Los Angeles had seen a rapidly growing population of Japanese immigrants, but the increase in Japanese immigration also fueled a rise in anti-Japanese sentiment. The Asian Exclusion Act of 1924 halted migration—the legislation was deeply unpopular in Japan where it was referred to as the "Japanese Exclusion" act. The tension between the two countries would eventually culminate in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.
In 1942 the Japanese American businesses in Little Tokyo were closed under force. During WWII Kimura was incarcerated at an internment camp where he worked with a fellow Japanese American photographer Toyo Miyatake. Miyatake had smuggled in a camera lens and, with Edward Weston’s encouragement, the camp director eventually allowed Miyatake to photograph inside the camp. When Kimura and Miyatake were released, Kimura went on to work in the photo studio that Miyatake opened in Little Tokyo.
Kimura became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1954 and, a year later, opened his own camera store: the Kimura Photomart.