Hiromu Kira

Name Hiromu Kira
Born April 5 1898
Died July 19 1991
Birth Location Waipahu, O'ahu, Hawai'i
Generational Identifier

Hiromu Kira (1898-1991) was one of the most successful and well-known Japanese American photographers in prewar Los Angeles. He was born in Waipahu, O'ahu, Hawai'i on April 5, 1898, but was sent to Kumamoto, Japan, for his early education. When he was eighteen years old, he returned to the United States and settled in Seattle, Washington, where he first became interested in photography. In 1923, he submitted prints to the Seattle Photography Salon which accepted two of the photographs. In 1923, his work was accepted in the Pittsburg Salon and the Annual Competition of American Photography. He found work at the camera department of a local Seattle pharmacy and began meeting other Issei , Nisei and Kibei photographers such as Kyo Koike and joined the Seattle Camera Club.

In 1926, Kira moved to Los Angeles with his wife and two young children. Although he was never a member of the Japanese Camera Pictorialists of California, a group that was active in Los Angeles at that time, he developed strong friendships with club members associated with the pictorialist movement of the 1920s and '30s such as K. Asaishi and T. K. Shindo. In 1928, Kira was named an associate of the Royal Photography Society, and the following year he was made a full fellow and began exhibiting both nationally and internationally. In 1929 alone, Kira exhibited ninety-six works in twenty-five different shows. [1] In the late twenties, he worked at T. Iwata's art store. In 1931, his photograph The Thinker , made while showing a customer how to use his newly purchased camera properly, appeared on the March 1931 issue of Vanity Fair magazine.

On December 5, two days before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Kira was selected to be included in the 25th Annual International Salon of the Camera Pictorialists of Los Angeles. Within a few months, he was forced to store his camera, photography books and prints in the basement of the Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist Temple in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles for the duration of World War II. He and his family were incarcerated at Santa Anita Assembly Center and the Gila River , Arizona concentration camp from 1942-44, leaving the latter in April 1944.

Following his release, he lived briefly in Chicago before returning to Los Angeles in 1946, where he remained for the rest of his life. In Los Angeles, he worked as a photo retoucher and printer for the Disney, RKO and Columbia Picture studios but never exhibited again as he had before the war.

In 1985, his work was included in a major exhibition, Japanese Photography in America: 1920-1940 , organized by the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center in Los Angeles, which toured to venues including the Oakland Museum of California, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, and the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. His work also appeared in Made in California: Art, Image and Identity, 1900-2000 , Los Angeles County Museum of Art (2000) and California Dreaming: Camera Clubs and the Pictorial Photography Tradition , Boston University Art Gallery (2004). His work is in the collections at the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Polk Museum of Art in Lakeland, Florida.

Kira died on July 19, 1991, in Los Angeles, California at age 93.

Authored by Patricia Wakida

For More Information

Chang, Gordon H., Mark Dean Johnson, and Paul J. Karlstrom, editors. Asian American Art: A History, 1850-1970 . Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2008.

Monroe, Robert. "Light and Shade: Pictorial Photography in Seattle, 1920-1940, and the Seattle Camera Club." In Turning Shadows into Light , edited by Mayumi Tsutakawa and Alan C. Lau. Young Pine Press, 1982.

Reed, Dennis. Japanese Photography in America: 1920-1940. Japanese American Cultural and Community Center, 1985.


  1. Gordon H. Chang, Mark Dean Johnson, and Paul J. Karlstrom, editors, Asian American Art: A History, 1850-1970'’ (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2008), 355.

Last updated July 11, 2015, 3:26 a.m..