Pacific ocean cool: when American Arts and Crafts met Japanese modernism

David b gamble house, west elevation detail
David B Gamble house, west elevation detail / © Kochi Prefecture

Yasuhiro Ishimoto’s images of the pioneering architecture of Greene and Greene have a minimal aesthetic that still looks contemporary

A few months before his death in 2012, photographer Yasuhiro Ishimoto requested that his 1974 series on architects Greene and Greene be exhibited in California. The Museum of Art, Kochi, the series’s current home in Japan, is not a lending institution and none of the collection has ever been outside the country until now. At San Marino’s Huntington Library is Yasuhiro Ishimoto: Bilingual Photography and the Architecture of Greene and Greene, a unique exploration of modernism, American Arts and Craft movement and traditional Japanese architecture presented in a lean series of 46 eloquently minimal black and white photos.

Born in San Francisco in 1921, Ishimoto moved with his parents to Japan during his formative years but returned to the US to pursue higher education. Instead, he wound up in Colorado’s Amache Internment Camp during world war two where he took the time to reflect on his future. Upon release he enrolled in the Chicago Institute of Design to study under legendary Bauhaus artist, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy. In a city as rich in architecture as Chicago the multi-award winning Ishimoto couldn’t help but shoot buildings, including a 1951 series of Mies van der Rohe’s Lake Shore Drive apartments. His professor, Harry Callahan introduced his work to MoMA photography curator Edward Steichen who included Ishimoto’s images in the landmark Family of Man exhibit of 1955.

Twenty-five years later, Tsune Sesoko, editor of the influential design magazine Approach, commissioned the images that make up the current show. Ishimoto took more than a 1,000 photos of landmark domiciles designed by arts and crafts architects Greene and Greene. They included the Thorsen House in Berkeley, the Blacker House in Pasadena as well as its famous neighbor the Gamble House, where he shot over 600 images. Of the 1000, only 82 were printed and only 23 were published. […]

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