For a brief period during the 1920s the Japanese immigrants of the Seattle Camera Club met regularly to discuss their art and go on social outings to photograph Mt. Rainier and other local sites. Their work was hugely successful, among the most exhibited photography in the world at the time, according to Nicolette Bromberg, visual materials curator for special collections at the UW library. Yet the style they used, Pictorialism, soon fell out of favor in photography, and their work could have easily been lost to war. The Henry Art Gallery's "Shadows of a Fleeting World" exhibits the photographs of the club members together for the first time, said Bromberg.
"Photography started out as a science," said Bromberg, while painting was considered the true art form. Pictoral photographers often tried to make their photos look like paintings, by using a soft focus with an emphasis on conveying emotion.
The Seattle Camera Club was started by Japanese immigrants, but was open to all and came to include several white members, which was rare among camera clubs at the time. Artistic expression proved an easy way to overcome language barriers. "It was a way to communicate with the broader community because you could share your art," said Bromberg. The immigrants shared their cultural sense of aesthetics as well, and photographs by both Japanese and white members contain Japanese design elements.
The club was short lived. It faded out during the Depression as members who were mostly amateurs could no longer afford to participate. During World War II the Japanese members were sent to relocation camps and gave up their cameras because "if you were Japanese you weren't supposed to have a camera" as they implied spying, said Bromberg. Fortunately, the artwork of several Japanese members of the club was preserved by their white friends, while much of the work of other West Coast Japanese camera clubs has been lost. Still, some Seattle members' work is only represented by photos on a large collection of holiday cards the members sent to each other.