Genthe’s Photographs of SF’s Chinatown

Arnold Genthe (1869 – 1942) was a photographer who documented the pre-1906 Chinatown. Genthe retouched some of his original photographs, removing English language signs, non-Chinese people, evidence of Western technology, etc, and specifically shot them, arranged, or cropped them in order to romanticize the “exotic” nature of his subject. Thus, the images show us, in addition to Old Chinatown, Genthe’s own “gaze” (a peculiarly Western and Orientalist gaze) and the spectacle of Orientalism at the turn of the century. There are several books on the subject, including a critical treatment in Picturing Chinatown: Art and Orientalism in San Francisco by Anthony W. Lee. Also available is a collection of Genthe’s work, with a critical essay by John Kuo Wei Tchen, Genthe’s Photographs of San Francisco’s Old Chinatown.


The Library of Congress has an archive that compares Genthe’s negatives with some of his finished photographs:

The California Historical Society maintains a website with many of Genthe’s images of old Chinatown:

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