Photographer Yasuhiro Ishimoto was born in San Francisco and trained in Chicago but spent most of his life in Japan. Working on both sides of the Pacific, he gained acclaim for keenly observed images that combined a Japanese aesthetic with a modernist’s eye.
Ishimoto’s bicultural background proved invaluable when he came to California in 1974 to photograph homes designed by Charles and Henry Greene, American Arts and Crafts masters who found inspiration in Japanese architecture.
“His unique perspective let him view the Greenes in a fresh way,” says Anne Mallek, co-curator of an exhibition of Ishimoto’s work opening June 18 at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino. “He saw what was Japanese and also modern and universal.”
“Yasuhiro Ishimoto: Bilingual Photography and the Architecture of Greene & Greene” presents 40 black-and-white pictures of eight of the brothers’ commissions, including the Gamble and Blacker houses in Pasadena. The pieces, on loan from the Museum of Art, Kochi in Japan, are making their U.S. debut. Also featured are six prints from the artist’s 1954 visit to the Katsura Imperial Villa in Kyoto.
Ishimoto, who died at age 90 in 2012, “was what photographer Minor White called ‘a visual bilinguist,’ ” says Mallek, former Gamble House curator. Ishimoto identified what she describes as “resonances” between the early 20th-century homes — shot for a Japanese design magazine — and the 17th-century villa. “For example, at Katsura and the Gamble House, he perceived steppingstones were deliberately placed to guide you to a new view.”
Like the Greenes, Ishimoto paid attention to details. “He looked more closely,” says Mallek, who curated the Huntington show with Edward R. Bosley, Gamble House director. “He focused on things like pattern, light and form.”
The exhibition runs through Oct. 3. It coincides with the re-opening of a re-installed gallery devoted to Greene & Greene designs.