Yasuhiro Ishimoto, Gifts to a Friend @L. Parker Stephenson Photographs

JTF (just the facts): A total of 22 black and white and color photographs, framed in black and matted, and hung against white walls in the main gallery space and the smaller viewing room. The images in the show were taken between 1948 and and 1996 and are a mix of vintage and later prints. There are 19 gelatin silver prints and 3 Type C prints on view. Sizes range from 8×10 to 11×14 (or reverse); no edition information was available. 15 of the prints come from a single collection and were gifts directly from Ishimoto. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: Yasuhiro Ishimoto is probably best known to American audiences for his 1940s/1950s Chicago street photography. Ishimoto studied at the Institute of Design under Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind, and returned to the city on an artistic fellowship a decade later. This small show brings together a few prints from this early period and a tight cross section of work he made in subsequent years while living in Japan. It’s a terrific one-stop introduction to a photographer who smartly harmonized his Japanese and American aesthetic influences.

Ishimoto’s street shots cover familiar territory, but with an eye for layered compositions of people at different depths. Kids wear Halloween masks and pose on sidewalks or front stoops, while other images flatten adjacent strangers into intricate, interlocking spatial relationships. The later works on display here cover a broad swath of photographic genres: cut paper and light-on-water abstractions, elegant up-close still life florals, ephemeral melting footprints in snow and flimsy grass silhouettes, and even a single nude/rock study with echoing rounded forms. These pictures feel rooted in both his American artistic education and the intrinsic natural beauty of unbalanced Japanese forms. The exhibit also includes a few experimental multiple exposure color works that merge dark trees and cloudy skies with bright washes of overlaid expressionistic color, showing that Ishimoto continued to innovate even when he was exploring relatively traditional subject matter.

It’s great to see an Ishimoto sampler on view here in New York, since his work has generally been more accessible in Chicago (where he has long been represented by Stephen Daiter (here)). He is a bridge figure, one who fills in gaps in the ID history, as well as connecting to Japanese photographic ideas. Overall, this small overview covers a lot of ground, but is full of intimate, well crafted 20th century photographs.

Collector’s POV: The prints in the show are priced as follows. The black and white prints range in price from $2500 to $6000; the color prints are $800 each. The entire set of 15 gift images (sold as a single collection) is priced at $22000. Ishimoto’s work has only been intermittently available in the secondary markets over the years; his well regarded book Chicago, Chicago is more often found in photobook sales. Prices have generally ranged between $500 and $3000, but this may not be entirely representative of his best or most notable work.

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