Unidentified Japanese American Painter, circa 1920
Vintage gelatin silver print on matte paper
13 1/2 x 11 inches
October 17, 2022
This picture is an elegant and near perfect expression of pictorial photography’s deep identification with painting. There is a shared sensibility with Rembrandt’s self portraits, particularly in the way that the painter's penetrating gaze pierces the surrounding fog of gauzy light. In fact, it’s tempting to regard this as a self portrait of sorts by Kato, particularly now that the sitter’s identity has been lost to time. The portrait neatly sums up Taizo Kato’s own artistic practice, which included both photography and painting, a cross-disciplinary approach emblematic of the artistic milieu where he was an organizing figure. Kato operated the Korin in Los Angeles’s Little Tokyo neighborhood where photography was exhibited alongside painting and sculpture, and was briefly a member of the artistic group Shaku-do-sha which was founded by a group of Japanese American painters in 1923, a year before Kato’s untimely death at the age of 36.
The early flowering of Japanese American photography on the West Coast was all but swept away by WWII and prints like this are exceedingly rare. Kato's work has been actively collected by American museums over the past several years, most recently with a similar print of this portrait acquired by The National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.