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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Harry K. Shigeta

Other: Kinzi Shigeta 
Dates:  1887, 5 July - 1963, 21 April
Born:  Japan, Ueda
Died:  US, CA, Los Angeles

Preparing biographies

Approved biography for Harry K. Shigeta
(Courtesy of Christian Peterson)

Shigeta made inventive pictorial prints from the 1920s through the 1940s in Chicago. He was active in both local and national amateur organizations, freely sharing his expertise and enthusiasm. He was also an accomplished professional photographer, working in portraiture, advertising, and illustration.
Kinzi Shigeta was born on July 5, 1887, in Ueda, Japan, and came to this country alone when he was sixteen year old. He lived first in Seattle, where he attended art classes and bought his first camera.
Shigeta’s professional career began when he landed a job in a portrait studio in St. Paul, Minnesota. Here he learned the technique of portraiture and studied painting on the side. In 1911, he moved to Los Angeles, where he became an expert retoucher. He opened a portrait studio in 1918 and shortly thereafter served as staff photographer for a Hollywood motion-picture magazine. By 1924, he had relocated to Chicago to work as a retoucher at Moffett’s, a large portrait studio, but he soon became a full-fledged photographer and took over the company’s neglected commercial department. Influenced by the avant-garde work of Lázlo Moholy-Nagy, Shigeta began making dynamic, combination-printed commercial work. In 1930, he and George Wright opened the Shigeta-Wright Studio, which specialized in experimental illustration and food photography. He continued to work professionally for about thirty years and was honored with the master of photography degree from the Photographers’ Association of America in 1949. That same year, a Chicago church commissioned him to make a 16mm color film of its production of the Passion Play.
Shigeta was a leader in pictorial photography in Chicago and beyond during the time he worked as a professional. He was a long-term member of the Fort Dearborn Camera Club, where he conducted monthly print criticisms during the 1930s. He gave demonstrations and talks to other local camera clubs and was widely loved among amateurs. Small of physical stature, his reputation as an accomplished photographer and generous teacher loomed large.
Shigeta’s work appeared regularly in photography shows in Chicago and elsewhere from the 1920s to late 1940s. Among the salons that accepted his pictures were those in Cincinnati, Detroit, London, Los Angeles, Memphis, Pittsburgh, Rochester, San Diego, Tokyo, Toronto, and Wichita. He was highly sought after as a salon judge, and in 1946 he traveled to the Twin Cities to judge the sixteenth annual Minneapolis Salon of Photography. Solo shows of his work were hung at the Camera Club of New York in 1935 and the Smithsonian Institution in 1951. In the late 1940s, he wrote a regular column for thePSA Journal and in 1949 was awarded an honorary fellowship by the Photographic Society of America (Hon. FPSA).
Shigeta frequently embraced the nude as subject in his pictorial images. He photographed unclothed figures on sand dunes and in the studio, sometimes making modernistic images. Some of these pictures may have begun as illustrative assignments, given their dramatic lighting, stylization, and professional finish. At least one of his nude pieces appeared both in a Chicago salon as Shigeta’s own and in a 1937 magazine as the product of the Shigeta-Wright firm. Such an example illustrates how the boundaries between commercialism and pictorialism blurred after World War I.
Harry K. Shigeta retired to California in about 1960. Three years later, on April 21, 1963, he died in Los Angeles, of a heart attack. 
Christian A. Peterson Pictorial Photography at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (Christian A. Peterson: Privately printed, 2012) 
This biography is courtesy and copyright of Christian Peterson and is included here with permission. 
Date last updated: 1 June 2013. 
We welcome institutions and scholars willing to test the sharing of biographies for the benefit of the photo-history community. The biography above is a part of this trial.
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