Dr. Kyo Koike born on February 11, 1878 in the Shimane Prefecture of Japan. He attended medical school and began his practice before immigrating to the United States where he arrived in Seattle on December 19, 1916. A few of his extant early works indicate that he had produced some skillful pictorial work while still in Japan. However, by 1920 he had progressed sufficiently in his avocation to be included in the first Frederick & Nelson Salon in Seattle.
Koike was a Renaissance man who was successful in several fields; he was an empathetic, caring physician and surgeon; a published poet, writer and editor; a naturalist and mountaineer; and most importantly, one of the most prominent pictorial photographers ever active in America.
His photography was the embodiment of the synthesis of Eastern and Western approaches. “The Japanese idea of composition in pictures is somewhat different from that of Americans. You will frequently find a peculiar atmosphere in their pictures that is due, no doubt, to the influence of ancient Japanese literature and art. From the literary standpoint most Japanese poems contain but a very few words and instead of stating facts and explaining the whole story, such a poem leaves much to the imagination of the reader and you will find a similar tendency in the pictorial art of Japan.”
With Koike’s initial entrée into the exhibition world, his work was soon accepted in national and international competitions and often illustrated in the leading photographic journals of the period. His first national recognition came when Photo-Era reproduced one of his photographs in March of 1922. The work titled “The Little Dancer” received an Honorable Mention from the magazine and would initiate many additional associations that he would establish with most of the important national and international journals of his time.
An eloquent spokesman for Pictorialism, especially from a Japanese point of view, Koike wrote countless articles that appeared throughout the U.S., Europe and Japan.
By the time he co-founded the Seattle Camera Club, Koike was already a highly respected photographer in the community and served as mentor to some of the younger aspiring members. One of his most important accomplishments was serving as the Editor of Notan, the SCC’s monthly bulletin. Besides recording all of the major accomplishments of the members, including his own, Koike translated Japanese literature that he included in the multi-lingual publication. As a measure if his selfless dedication, he would often use the money that he was paid for writing articles to cover the expenses of producing Notan.
His work was illustrated many times throughout the 1920’s and 30’s in major publications such as Camera Craft, The Camera, the American Annual of Photography and the prestigious Annual of the Pictorial Photographers of America.
In 1925, Dr. Koike became a member of the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain and attained their highest honor by being designated a Fellow of the organization in 1928. By that time, he had won numerous prizes in competitions that numbered over one hundred-fifty. That same year, he was elected the Director of the Associated Camera Clubs of America, a position he held for two years.
He was given several solo exhibitions from prominent venues such as the Kodak Park Camera Club, Rochester, NY, 1926; Portage Camera Club, Akron, Ohio, 1927 and the Brooklyn Institute of Arts & Sciences in 1928.
The following year he was honored in his hometown with an exhibition at the Art Institute of Seattle, preceded by those held for him in Warsaw, Poland; the Riverside, California Public Library and the California Camera Club, San Francisco.
While most of his fellow SCC members either ceased or lessened their involvement in artistic photography during the Depression, Dr. Koike maintained some activity throughout those difficult years.
When the SCC ended in 1929, he became more involved in other pursuits such as his continuing translation of Japanese literature and the cataloguing of regional flora specimens that he had collected over the years. He became a a prominent member of the Rainier Ginsha, a Seattle Haiku poetry Society formed in 1934 by poet Kyou Kawajiri. Writing under the name Banjin, Koike focused his energies on writing and edited a publication of poetry by the Rainier Ginsha in 1938.
Like his fellow Issei members, Dr. Koike was interned at Minidoka and the incarceration exacted a severe toll on his mental and physical health. His poetry became a saving grace during the internment and he rallied his energies to form the Minidoka Ginsha in October, 1942 to teach and eventually publish Haiku poetry written by himself and his fellow internees. By 1945, the group had composed over 2000 poems by 158 poets.
He returned to Seattle after the internment and reopened his medical practice. However, he continued to decline and died on March 31, 1947. He was cremated and his ashes were scattered near the foothills of his beloved Mt. Rainier.
The Rainier Ginsha honored Dr. Koike in 1948 by publishing a collection of members poetry titled “Sawarabi” and dedicating the book to his memory. Sawarabi is the Japanese word for fern shoots, a spring delicacy that Dr. Koike was picking when he died.