A Letter from Japan

A Letter from Japan

A Letter from Japan: The Photographs of John Swope is the first in-depth presentation of vintage prints from the late Los Angeles photographer’s 1945 journey through post-war Japan. Shot during a three-and-a-half-week period, John Swope’s photographs vividly document the impact of World War II on the local population of Japan as well as on the Allied soldiers and prisoners of war. The exhibition presents over 115 vintage prints, which also include selected highlights from his career as a renowned Hollywood photographer from the 1930s through 1970s.

The exhibition and accompanying catalogue honor John Swope’s original intention of bringing together his timeless, powerful photographs with the emotional text of a letter he wrote from Japan to his wife, actress Dorothy McGuire. Individual images are juxtaposed with short excerpts in both the exhibition and the catalogue. Published by the Hammer Museum, the catalogue also reprints the entire 144-page letter for the first time.

A Letter from Japan: The Photographs of John Swope. Installation view at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles. March 5-June 4, 2006. Photo by Joshua White.

In addition to the Japanese series, the exhibition presents a selection of Swope’s earlier and subsequent work in photojournalism and portraiture that further reflect his striking ability to encapsulate a range of universal human experiences in photographs. Early on, Swope (1908-1979) became best known for his insider views of Hollywood in which he captured both the glamorous and the mundane sides of life through intimate portraits of celebrities and behind-the scenes views of movie and theatrical productions. He went on to have a successful career as a freelance Life magazine photographer, where he frequently covered similar stories on Hollywood.

Alongside the photographs, A Letter from Japan presents books and magazines, in which Swope’s work was originally published, the photographer’s personal documents and letters, his camera, and other ephemera. The exhibition includes significant loans from the John Swope Trust, Kiyosato Museum of Photographic Arts, Craig Krull Gallery, Ben Stiller, and other private collections.

This exhibition is generously supported by Gail and Jerry Oppenheimer with additional support from Mrs. Sidney F. Brody, The Judith Rothschild Foundation, Shirlee Fonda, and Jane Wyatt.