Arnold Genthe

Arnold Genthe

Arnold Genthe (January 8, 1869 – August 9, 1942) was a photographer, best known for his photos of San Francisco's Chinatown, the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and his portraits of noted persons, from politicians and socialites to literary figures and entertainment celebrities.


Genthe was born in Berlin, Prussia, to Louise Zober and Hermann Genthe, a professor of Latin and Greek at the Graues Kloster (Grey Monastery) in Berlin. Arnold followed in his father's footsteps, becoming a classically trained scholar; he received a doctorate in philology in 1894 at the University of Jena, where he knew artist Adolf Menzel, his mother's cousin.

After emigrating to San Francisco in 1895 to work as a tutor, he taught himself photography. He was intrigued by the Chinese section of the city and photographed its inhabitants, from children to drug addicts, Due to his subjects' possible fear of his camera or their reluctance to have pictures taken, Genthe sometimes hid his camera. He sometimes removed evidence of Western culture from these pictures, cropping or erasing as needed. About 200 of his Chinatown pictures survive and these comprise the only known photographic depictions of the area before 1906 earthquake.

After local magazines published some of his photographs in the late 1890s, he opened a portrait studio. He knew some of the city's wealthy matrons, and as his reputation grew, his clientèle included Nance O'Neil, Sarah Bernhardt, and Jack London.

In 1906, the San Francisco earthquake and fire destroyed Genthe's studio, but he rebuilt. His photograph of the earthquake's aftermath, Looking Down Sacramento Street, San Francisco, April 18, 1906, is his most famous photograph.

In 1911 he moved to New York City, where he remained until his death of a heart attack in 1942. He worked primarily in portraiture and Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and John D. Rockefeller all sat for him. His photos of Greta Garbo were credited with boosting her career. He also photographed modern dancers, including Anna Pavlova, Isadora Duncan, and Ruth St. Denis, and his photos were featured in the 1916 book, "The Book of the Dance". He also was an early experimenter with the autochrome color photography process.


*"Pictures of old Chinatown" – text by Will Irwin, illus. Arnold Genthe; New York: Moffat, Yard and co. 1908
*"The book of the dance" – by Arnold Genthe; Boston, Mass.: International Publishers, 1920, c. 1916
*"Impressions of Old New Orleans" – by Arnold Genthe, fwd by Grace King; New York: George H. Doran co., c. 1926
*"Isadora Duncan: twenty four studies" – by Arnold Genthe; New York: M. Kennerley 1929; reprinted by Books for Libraries 1980 ISBN 0-8369-9306-3
*"As I remember" – by Arnold Genthe; New York: Reynal & Hitchcock c. 1936
*"Highlights and shadows" – ed. by Arnold Genthe; New York: Greenberg, c. 1937
*"Genthe's Photographs of San Francisco's Old Chinatown" – by Arnold Genthe, selection and text by John Tchen; New York: Dover Publications 1984 ISBN 0-486-24592-6


* Mel Byars, N. Elizabeth Schlatter. "Genthe, Arnold". [ American National Biography Online] . Feb. 2000. Accessed September 2006 (subscription required).

External links

* [ Library of Congress: Prints & Photographs Division: Genthe Collection] [ (sample images from collection)]
* [ "As I Remember" Chapter 10: Earthquake and Fire]
* [ California Historical Society collection]
* [*1$283*16629 SF MOMA collection]


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