Saturday, June 15, 2013

JoAnn Roe. The Real Old West: Photographs by Frank Matsura. (1981)

     JoAnn Roe. The Real Old West: Photographs by Frank Matsura. (1981) Matsura arrived in Conconully, Washington State, to take a job as cook’s helper in the local hotel. He quickly established himself as photographer, however, and when he died ten years later of tuberculosis, people from miles around attended his funeral. His photographic skills are evident in this selection of some 150 images, all taken in the Okanogan (NB the US spelling) on both sides of the border. He himself is a puzzle: very little is known of his antecedents, and the few clues haven’t apparently helped much in discovering his Japanese family, nor the reasons why he left there.
     But his pictures tell us a good deal about him, because he was able to capture the trust of his subjects, all of whom gaze into the camera with self-possession and self-assurance. He also took pains to record the business and social life, and the landscape of the area. I found this book in Donalda (Alberta) in the summer, and bought it because of its photos of buildings and transport; but in the several times I’ve looked through it this year, I came to admire Matsura’s sense of composition and his skill in presenting the characters of his portrait subjects. A very good book, with a mystery at its heart. *** (2005)

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