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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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