Arnold Genthe (American, born Germany, 1869–1942)
Gelatin silver print
13 3/8 x 9 in. (34 x 22.8 cm)
Gift of Mrs. Eustace Seligman, 1953 (53.680.6)
Shortly after arriving in California from Germany in 1895, Arnold Genthe began wandering the streets of Chinatown with a hidden camera, intent on recording the surviving vestiges of old-world traditions in this thriving ethnic enclave. Over the next ten years, he returned repeatedly to the "Canton of the West," finally publishing the photographs as a book, Pictures of Old Chinatown, in 1908. In his autobiography, Genthe recorded his first impressions of Chinatown with the giddy fascination of a recent immigrant who has accidentally stumbled upon a strange new world: "The smell of the placeit was a mixture of the scent of sandalwood and exotic herbs from the drugstores, the sickly sweetness of opium smoke, the fumes of incense and roast pork And in the air there was always the sound of temple gongs, the clashing of cymbals and the shrill notes of an orchestra. It was something for me to write home about."