Soichi Sunami

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Soichi Sunami
Sunami Sōichi (角南 壮一)
Soichi Sunami.jpg
Soichi Sunami
Born(1885-02-18)February 18, 1885
DiedNovember 12, 1971(1971-11-12) (aged 86)
New York City, USA
SpouseSuyeko Matsushima Sunami (married 1945–1971)
ChildrenJohn Soichi Sunami and Reiko Sunami Kopelson
Martha Graham's "Heretic" by Soichi Sunami
Stefan Hirsch by Soichi Sunami

Soichi Sunami (角南 壮一, given name translating as "magnificent first son," and family name translating as "south corner"; 1885–1971) was a modernist photographer, influenced by the pictorialist movement, and best known for his portraits of early modern dancers, including Ruth St Denis, Agnes De Mille, Helen Tamiris and Martha Graham, with whom he maintained an extended artistic collaboration.[1][2] He produced some of the only known images of the early black modern dancer, Edna Guy, and also photographed the modern dancer Harald Kreutzberg.[3]


Born in Okayama Prefecture, Japan, on February 18, 1885,[4] he emigrated to the United States in 1905. In 1907 he arrived in Seattle, where he studied under Dutch impressionist painter Fokko Tadama.[3] By 1918, he had shifted his artistic focus to photography after working alongside Wayne Albee and Frank Kunishige for photographer Ella E. McBride,[5] the last two of whom were fellow members of the Seattle Camera Club, an association largely made up of Japanese-American immigrant photographers. He also won several awards from an art salon hosted by Frederick & Nelson, a local department store.[4][6] By 1922, he had moved to New York City, where he briefly worked for photographer Nickolas Muray before enrolling at the Art Students League, alongside classmate Alexander Calder, under the primary tutelage of Ashcan painter John Sloan,[4] after whom he would later name his son. It was in New York that he made the acquaintance of the author Anaïs Nin, and thereafter produced many of the photographs of her included in her books.

For nearly forty years (from 1930 until 1968)[4] he was the main archival photographer at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City,[4] a position that helped him avoid internment during World War II. His friends and admirers included artist Natalie Hays Hammond and MoMA founder Abby Aldrich Rockefeller.[4] He became an American citizen on August 5, 1957, and died on November 12, 1971.[4] Several members of his family followed him into the arts, including son John Soichi Sunami (a public artist), his son-in-law Robert Kopelson (pianist), his granddaughter Julia Kopelson (photographer),[7] his granddaughter Jennifer Sunami (graphic design), his grandson Christopher Andrew-Soichi Sunami (organizer of the Columbus Invitational Arts Competition[8]), and his granddaughter-in-law April Sunami (painter).[9]


Starting on October 11, 2018, Cascadia Art Museum of Edmonds, Washington, staged "Invocation of Beauty: The Life and Photography of Soichi Sunami," one of the first major retrospectives of Sunami's work since his death. It was accompanied by a new book by art historian David F. Martin.[10] Starting on November 30, 2018, a second retrospective of Sunami's work took place at the Cultural Arts Center in Columbus, Ohio, as part of "Generations of Art: The Sunami Family," a group show also featuring work by Sunami family members John, Jennifer and April, and great-grandson River Soichi Sunami.[11] The opening reception also featured a rare, authorized recreation of an original Graham dance, Heretic, as performed by the Columbus Modern Dance Company, as well as music by grandson Christopher (as performed by musicians from the Columbus Symphony Orchestra).[12]


  1. ^ "The Arts - 'Shadows of a Fleeting World' reveals a hidden chapter in Seattle's cultural history - Seattle Times Newspaper". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 6 January 2015.
  2. ^ Michael Upchurch. "In a new Seattle exhibit, dance photography that dazzles". Crosscut. Retrieved 25 January 2019.
  3. ^ a b "Little-known Seattle photographer was a purveyor of beauty". Seattle Herald. 11 October 2018. Retrieved 17 October 2018.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Muir, Kathy. "Soichi Sunami". Seattle Camera Club. Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved March 18, 2019.
  5. ^ "McBride, Ella E. (1862-1965) -".
  6. ^ Tamiko Nimura. "The Artist's Memory: Soichi Sunami and Japanese American Photography". Discover Nikkei. Retrieved 25 January 2019.
  7. ^ "ArtSlant - Julia Kopelson". ArtSlant. Retrieved 31 December 2014.
  8. ^ Michael Grossberg. "200 Columbus Invitational: Performance, music and more to be showcased". The Columbus Dispatch. Retrieved 6 January 2015.
  9. ^ "Artist Profile: April Sunami & the Psychewelic Exhibit". Broad and High. Retrieved 31 December 2014.
  10. ^ "Invocation of Beauty: The Life and Photography of Soichi Sunami". Retrieved 5 September 2018.
  11. ^ "Gallery Schedule". Retrieved 5 September 2018.
  12. ^ Nancy Gilson (December 9, 2018). "Columbus Cultural Arts Center Exhibit Showcase Works by 5 Members of Sunami Family". Columbus Dispatch. Retrieved December 4, 2019.