Arnold Genthe

American, born Germany (Berlin, Germany, 1869 - 1942, New Milford, Connecticut)

Merchant and Body Guard, Old Chinatown, San Francisco

ca. 1895-1906; printed ca. 1920
photograph | gelatin silver print
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  • Merchant and Body Guard, Old Chinatown, San Francisco

    Arnold Genthe, Merchant and Body Guard, Old Chinatown, San Francisco, ca. 1895-1906; printed ca. 1920; gelatin silver print, 8 7/8 in. x 12 5/8 in. (22.54 cm x 32.07 cm); Collection SFMOMA, Accessions Committee Fund purchase;

Arnold Genthe, a well-educated European émigré in San Francisco, became intrigued by the city’s Chinatown after reading a handbook that cautioned against visiting the quarter without a guide. Fascinated by the distinctive sights and sounds he discovered in the area, and frustrated by the dull scenes and stilted poses available on postcards, he began taking amateur photographs, eventually accumulating over 200 glass negatives. Because his cameras were small and discreet and could be taken into privileged places covertly, Genthe was able to photograph people who would otherwise shy away from the camera in the course of their day-to-day lives. The resulting pictures offer rare insights into the area’s active street life at the turn of the century, and also serve as important documents of Chinatown before its destruction in the 1906 earthquake.

8 7/8 in. x 12 5/8 in. (22.54 cm x 32.07 cm)
Acquired 2006
Collection SFMOMA
Accessions Committee Fund purchase


surveillance, men, businessmen, workers, protection, shadows, Chinatown, Chinese, Mandarin, Asian, San Francisco, Bay Area, California

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