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Photo Synthesis

The Thinker

May 21, 2006|Colin Westerbeck

c. 1930

*

When I asked L.A. collector Dennis Reed to show me work by Japanese American photographers from the 1920s and '30s in which he specializes, this Hiromu Kira bromide print was among his choices. Bromide was a favorite process of the Pictorialist movement then waning in the camera clubs to which amateurs such as Kira belonged.

Yet this photograph is strikingly modern--or Moderne--in style. One day when a customer at the photographic emporium where Kira worked bought a costly view camera, the store's owner asked Kira to demonstrate it for the man. The picture Kira made, at the new Hollywood Dam, is existential in effect. Sitting amid this swoosh of concrete, the slumped customer looks as if he were waiting for Godot. The abstractness of the setting makes it seem like a time warp in which the hapless subject, also of Japanese descent, is trapped.

But history was what he and Kira would both be trapped in when World War II broke out. "Sadly," Reed says of such photographers, "during the hysteria that followed the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and the subsequent relocation of Japanese Americans, most of their work was lost or destroyed."

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