One person who knows Ogawa's photographs well is Nicolette Bromberg, the visual materials curator at the University of Washington Libraries Special Collections.
Bromberg has worked as a photographic historian and archivist for nearly thirty years.
Before she was hired at the University of Washington in 2000, she was the visual materials curator at the Wisconsin Historical Society, as well as the photo archivist for the Kansas Collection at the University of Kansas.
has co-authored two books on Pacific Northwest history, including one about a group of Japanese immigrant photographers who founded a camera club during the 1920s and went on to earn national attention for documenting the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest.
One afternoon, I meet Bromberg in the main research room at the University of Washington
Libraries Special Collections.
Bromberg appears every bit the archetypal historian and curator-a small woman in her sixties with curly grayish-brown hair and reading glasses-and has an almost giddy enthusiasm for helping visitors navigate the library's vast collection.
has been fond of Ogawa ever since a colleague pointed her
work shortly after she
first arrived at the University of Washington
pulls up the photographs that have been digitized so far, and starts clicking through a collection of Ogawa's tavern photographs that have been uploaded to the UW Libraries Special Collection Web site.
in the bars, he's
in there," Bromberg
says in low tones, so as not to disturb other library visitors.
smiles as she thinks about Elmer tucking into a local tavern, setting his bulky camera on the bar, and ordering a cold pint of Rainier Beer.
"Look at his
excitedly exhales, as she
continues to click through the images.
"They are participating.
pauses a moment before she
clicks through more pictures.
lands on a series of self-portraits.
continues to sift through Ogawa's work, landing on more self-portraits.
has studied photographs for decades, and written books and articles about some of the most prominent photographers in the United States.
But I had a sense that there was something about Ogawa's lack of artistic pedigree and abundance of DIY spirit that she
appreciated in his
During my visit with Bromberg
, I asked if any progress had been made to save his
The only way she
knows how to answer that question is to take me on a tour.
leads me away from the main research room and down a short and dimly lit hallway, where she
swipes a key card and pushes open a heavy door to reveal a behind-the-scenes look at Special Collections-a room that appears to stretch out endlessly with islands of low desks piled high with archived boxes, binders, and computer terminals.
"There's probably more by now because they are going fast," Bromberg
tells me as she
begins to open boxes and hold negatives up to a bank of overhead lights to check their images.
"Here's one of him in a bar, of course, holding a puppy," she
says, peering into the translucent film.
The damaged negatives are bubbled and curled, and Bromberg
encourages me to smell some of them for that sour, potent signature whiff of vinegar that gives this type of deterioration its namesake "vinegar syndrome.
The damage vinegar syndrome afflicts on film-cracking brittleness, buckling, shrinking, and bubbling-can't be undone, and leaves negatives looking like blistered scales.
Beyond the physical damage, there is a fair amount of organizational chaos.
You might find a cache of Ogawa's negatives clearly labeled and in chronological order until, suddenly, they're not.
"We have a lot of work to do," Bromberg
"We would need to go through the negatives and identify them.
That's one reason Ogawa's work has been overlooked and ignored by Seattle historians-it's never really been accessible.
"I've been working here twelve years and the problem with Elmer's photo collection was that you couldn't get to it because it had never been worked on," Bromberg
landed another grant for $20,000 to work on the photo collections of Ogawa and two other photographers.
"We will not put up all the photos because there are about twelve thousand and some are similar views of the same thing or completely unidentifiable," Bromberg
"Someday, we will get a finding aid done for the collection.
The finding aid will describe all of the images in the collection, and have hyperlinks to all the photographs that are digitized.
That is, if we get a grant or some funding to help get it done."
At the end of our meeting, Bromberg
pauses to reflect on Ogawa.