Skip to content

Photo of the Week #183

Soichi Sunami

Warm tinted black and white photo of modern dancer Ruth St. Denis, posed in a headpiece and flowing white gown, with hands at her sides.

Ruth St. Denis, c. 1929
Toned gelatin silver print
10 x 8 in


March 7, 2022
As part of our continued focus on Japanese-American photographers, we’re delighted to feature this striking and rare photograph by Soichi Sunami. The work is an outstanding example of the portrayals of modern dancers that Sunami is best known for. Ruth St. Denis was one of the most important figures in the development of modern dance in the US and was at the height of her fame and influence when this picture was made. 

Sunami was born in Japan in 1885 and emigrated to the United States, settling in Seattle in 1907. Like many of his fellow Japanese-American photographers he was a member of the Seattle Camera Club. He began collaborating with modern dancers in Seattle and he continued this work after relocating to New York City in 1922, creating a body of work which is one of the defining documents of early modern dance in America. Ruth St. Denis introduced a spiritual component to modern choreography and Sunami’s expressionist depiction presents her like a high priestess. 

Beginning in 1930, Sunami worked for nearly 40 years as the lead archival photographer at the Museum of Modern Art, a role which over time became his primary focus. In October 2018 the Cascadia Museum near Seattle opened Invocation of Beauty—The Life and Photography of Soichi Sunami, an exhibition with catalog curated by David Martin, that traced his roots in the Seattle photographic community through his later modernist work in New York.