This visually and intellectually exciting book brings the history of San Francisco's Chinatown alive by taking a close look at images of the quarter created during its first hundred years, from 1850 to 1950. Picturing Chinatown contains more than 160 photographs and paintings, some well known and many never reproduced before, to illustrate how this famous district has acted on the photographic and painterly imagination. Bringing together art history and the social and political history of San Francisco, this vividly detailed study unravels the complex cultural encounter that occurred between the women and men living in Chinatown and the artists who walked its streets, observed its commerce, and visited its nightclubs.
Artistic representations of San Francisco's Chinatown include the work of some of the city's most gifted artists, among them the photographers Laura Adams Armer, Arnold Genthe, Dorothea Lange, Eadweard Muybridge, and Carleton Watkins and the painters Edwin Deakin, Yun Gee, Theodore Wores, and the members of the Chinese Revolutionary Artists' Club. Looking at the work of these artists and many others, Anthony Lee shows how their experiences in the district helped encourage, and even structured, some of their most ambitious experiments with brush and lens.
In addition to discussing important developments in modern art history, Lee highlights the social and political context behind these striking images. He demonstrates the value of seeing paintings and photographs as cultural documents, and in so doing, opens a fascinating new perspective on San Francisco's Chinatown.
List of Illustrations
1. The Place of Chinatown
2. Picturesque Chinatown
3. Photography on the Streets
4. Photography in the Books
5. Revolutionary Artists
6. The Forbidden City
Anthony W. Lee is Associate Professor of Art at Mount Holyoke College and author of Painting on the Left: Diego Rivera, Radical Politics, and San Francisco's Public Murals (California 1999).
"In his graceful integration of insights and literature from the disparate fields of art history, history, and ethnic studies, and with his focus on a little known body of visual images and image-makers, Lee has written a book that promises to make a significant contribution in terms of both subject and methodology. The residents of his Chinatown are not merely subjects of an orientalizing gaze, they are themselves producers of images, shapers of the neighborhood's distinctive physical appearance, followers of both American and Chinese political and cultural developments. . . . [This] book asserts the possibilities of images as sources of cultural meaning and reinserts art history into a central position in American cultural studies."—Martha A. Sandweiss, Professor of American Studies and History, Amherst College
"The author invites the reader to understand the paintings and photographs he is examining. . . as sites of human enactment where Chinese and non-Chinese alike participate in acts of cultural encounter." —Rodger C. Birt, Professor of Humanities and American Studies, San Francisco State University
Cultural Studies Book Award, Association of Asian American Studies
Eldredge Prize in American Art, Smithsonian Institution