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Posts Tagged ‘Arnold Genthe’

Photo by Arnold Genthe between 1920 and 1926.

Yesterday I was looking for inspiration and one of my favorite sources for such is to peruse the online collections of the Library of Congress. What a treasure. I used those collections extensively when pulling together a “walk through history” through the life of Joseph Anthony Horne. And as part of that journey I learned about photographer Arnold Genthe (1869-1942). Genthe is best known today for his photographs of Chinatown, the aftermath of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and his dreamy portraits of actors and actresses like Isadora Duncan, politicans like Theodore Roosevelt and literary figures including Jack London. I revisited his Library of Congress collection with a different eye, I suppose, than previously and was delighted to discover photographs he’d taken in the 1920s in New Orleans. One of the things he sometimes did in Chinatown was to walk the streets and hide his camera to try and obtain those candid shots of people just living not posing for the camera.

Photo by Arnold Genthe, between 1920 and 1926.
Photo by Arnold Genthe, between 1920 and 1926.

But he also made eye contact with people and there must have been something about him such that they would pause just a moment for him.

Photo by Arnold Genthe, between 1920 and 1926.

New Orleans was one of the world’s great banana ports. I can imagine Genthe, perhaps on assignment in New Orleans, taking a morning stroll with his camera to the wharves and capturing the work of the day, the unloading of bananas. He captures the dignity and beauty of men hard at work. They did not pose for him but they did stop and smile at him.

Photo by Arnold Genthe, between 1920 and 1926.

Sources & Additional Reading

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arnold_Genthe

https://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/agc/

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Photographer Arnold Genthe

Photographer Arnold Genthe

One of the unexpected gifts of researching the life of Joseph Anthony Horne has been exposure to photographers from the late 19th and early 20th centuries whose work and craftsmanship are no longer that widely known outside of scholarly circles.  Via the Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online Catalog, I’ve most recently enjoyed learning about Arnold Genthe.  Born in Germany in 1869, by 1895 he would be living in San Francisco, California, serving as the tutor to a Baron’s son.  There, he would gain access to a camera, become adept at its use and begin documenting his travels around the city, especially in Chinatown.

Friends, Chinatown, San Francisco by Arnold Genthe. taken between 1896 and 1906

Friends, Chinatown, San Francisco by Arnold Genthe. taken between 1896 and 1906

Eventually he would become a famed photographer for the wealthy elite, politicians, artists and to budding movie stars like Greta Garbo.

Portrait of Greta Garbo, taken July 1925

Portrait of Greta Garbo, taken July 1925

His earliest photographs, with the exception of photos he took in Chinatown, would be destroyed by the city’s devastating 1906 earthquake and fire.  But with a successful career that spanned three decades, the Library of Congress has archived thousands of his photographic images — the negatives and other materials were purchased from his estate after his death in 1943.  During his lifetime, like many people of his generation with his financial resources, Genthe would spend time traveling throughout Africa and Asia.

It is his images taken in Asia during a several month sojourn in 1908 that I find especially captivating.  Collectively titled, Travel Views of Japan and Korea, the breadth of imagery is extensive.

No city names are cited or any geographic locations given.  There are certainly clues to be gleaned from the landscape (e.g. an image of a giant buddha that may be in Kamakura and images of the Itsukushima Shinto Shrine).

I am particularly fascinated by his photographs of the people.

Each image holds a story in the expressions captured on faces over a hundred years ago, in the clothing worn, in the backgrounds of each scene.

Genthe seemed particularly drawn to photographing how, rich or poor, young or old, everyone took care of the babies.

The images are a dream in terms of capturing a very specific moment in time.

The Genthe Collection at the Library of Congress can be viewed via this link: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/agc/

If you’re particularly interested in the photographs of Old Chinatown, there’s a book available here.

And it appears that at least one chapter of his 1936 memoir, As I Remember, is available online here.

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