Picturing Chinatown: Art and Orientalism in San Francisco / Edition 1

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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.

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Editorial Reviews

Contains over 160 striking images made between 1850 and 1950.
Library Journal
The public perception of San Francisco's Chinatown, home to thousands of ethnic Chinese since the earliest years of the city, has been largely based on the writing and imagery of non-Chinese observers with varied agendas. Portrayed by some as an exotic and dangerous site of tong wars and opium dealing, it was also seen as a crowded living space occupied by sensible, hard-working immigrants. Lee (art, Mount Holyoke Coll.) has attempted to show how outsiders pictured Chinatown by closely analyzing almost 150 photos and paintings from the 1850s to the 1950s. Included are the well-known works of Arnold Genthe and Dorothea Lange, as well as images from the San Francisco Police book of mug shots. Missing from the roster of mostly formal and artistic works are the scores of casual snapshots that must exist in private hands. In addition, Lee does not attempt to use images found in the commercial advertising or popular media of the day. The result is well written, well researched, and beautifully produced, but ultimately this is an academic study that carefully notes crisp facts and then shelves them for other academics to pore over in quiet libraries far from the streets of Chinatown. The real question that Lee approaches but never really descends from the ivory tower to wrestle with is how it feels to have your place in America always defined by other people. David McClelland, Philadelphia Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520225923
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 10/2/2001
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 361
  • Product dimensions: 7.00 (w) x 10.00 (h) x 1.25 (d)

Meet the Author

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).

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Table of Contents

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
Works Cited


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