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Photo of the Week #188

Kentaro Nakamura

Black and white photo of a wave cresting.

Evening Wave, c. 1926


April 11, 2022
"Kentaro Nakamura’s striking photograph, Evening Wave, was taken circa 1926 on Southern California’s Balboa Island. It was the most widely exhibited and published photograph made by a Japanese American, being reproduced in English, German, and American publications. It was even included in the May 1928 issue of Soviet Foto, which reproduced very few works by photographers from the United States. 

Evening Wave is an example of the best of Japanese American photography. It is modernist in its downward viewpoint, flattened space, and diagonal composition. These same characteristics reflect the photographer’s Japanese heritage, too, which also emphasized flat, graphic space. Further, the Japanese character can be seen clearly in the waves, which appear to be formed by long lines, as if painted in sumi ink. 


Nakamura was a charter member of the Japanese camera club in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles, a group that is now being recognized for the modern character of their photography. Nakamura was regarded by the group as one of its premier photographers. Sadly, many of the photographs made by this group were lost during the incarceration of Japanese Americans at the outset of WWII. Currently, we could locate only four other prints of this image. Three are in museum collections (Getty Museum, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Tokyo Photographic Art Museum), and one is held privately."

–Dennis Reed


Dennis Reed is a leading expert in Asian American photography who organized the 1986 exhibition Japanese Photography in America, 1920–1940—which travelled to the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Corcoran Gallery of Art—and Making Waves: Japanese Photography in America, 1920–1940, presented at the Japanese American National Museum in 2016.