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Photo of the Week #201

Taizo Kato

Black and white portrait of Japanese American silent film star Sessue (Kintarō) Hayakawa

Sessue (Kintarō) Hayakawa, c. 1920
Vintage gelatin silver print
14 x 11 inches


July 11, 2022
Taizo Kato was based in the Little Tokyo section of Los Angeles and his proximity to Hollywood yielded portraits of early silent film stars like Kintarō Hayakawa. Known within the film industry by his stage name Sessue, Hayakawa was one of Hollywood’s earliest sex symbols and highest paid stars. While enjoying great popularity with female film goers, his career suffered from anti-Japanese sentiment and he was typecast in roles where he portrayed forbidden lovers and villains. Hayakawa responded by creating his own independent production company, Haworth Pictures Corp—the first Asian-American owned film production company in the United States. His production company made 19 films between 1918 and 1922, many co-starring his wife, Tsuru Aoki, herself a popular stage and screen actress. Sadly, many of these films have been lost to time.

Taizo Kato’s prints also remain rare because, like other pioneering Japanese-American art photographers (and filmmakers), his important contributions were largely neglected. Dedicated efforts by curators and historians in more recent years have helped restore this chapter in photographic history. An early still life by Kato is currently on view at the Whitney Museum of American Art in their current exhibition, At the Dawn of a New Age: Early Twentieth-Century American Modernism—on view through January 2023.