This month at the Central Library, we are opening an exciting new exhibit dedicated to Frank A. Kunishige, a noted Pictorialist photographer and one of the first members of the internationally recognized Seattle Camera Club. The exhibit features a selection of 33 textura tissue photographs, donated in 1961 by Kunishige’s wife, Gin. The prints represent the full range of Kunishige’s artistic photographs, including flowers, landscapes, nudes and cityscapes. To accompany the new exhibit, we’ve created a new digital collection featuring our full set of 57 images.
Despite Kunishige’s unique style and acclaimed status within the world of photography, little is known about his personal life. He was born in Japan on June 5, 1878 and came to the United States via San Francisco in 1895 at the age of 23. After graduating from the Illinois College of Photography, he opened a small photography studio in San Francisco. Kunishige moved to Seattle in 1917 and married in the same year, married his wife. Shortly afterwards, he began working in the studio of noted Seattle photographer Edward S. Curtis where he became acquainted with Ella McBride (who he later worked for after leaving Curtis’ studio).
Kunishige was well known for his use of Pictorialism, a popular painterly style of photography. He developed his photographs on textura tissue, a paper of his own creation, which allowed him to produce luminous prints. His work was featured nationally and internationally in exhibitions and publications such as Photo-Era and Seattle’s Town Crier.
In 1924, Kunishige became one of the founding members of the Seattle Camera Club, a group of local photographers including Kyo Koike, Yukio Morinaga, Iwao Matsushita and Fred Y. Ogasawara. The group formed a tight-knit social circle where they discussed new photography techniques and exchanged ideas about their work. Although the participants were initially solely Japanese, they soon welcomed more members including Ella McBride, their first female member.
When World War II struck and the country’s Japanese internment policy was put in place, Kunishige and his wife were forced to leave Seattle for Idaho where they were interned at the Minidoka camp. After their release, Kunishige spent two years working at a photography studio in Twin Falls, Idaho but eventually returned to Seattle due to his poor health. Frank Kunishige passed away on April 9, 1960 at the age of 81.
Frank Kunishige at The Seattle Public Library runs September 15 to December 15, 2015 in the Level 8 Gallery of the Central Library. For more information on the exhibit, see our website. To see the full digital collection of Kunishige’s materials, take a look at our Special Collections Online.
If you are interested in learning more about the Seattle Camera Club, check out Shadows of a Fleeting World: Pictorial Photography and the Seattle Camera Club, an insightful history of the club and its members.