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These images are part of the life work of Italian immigrant Gino Sbrana, who started his American life in San Francisco as a vegetable peddler. By 1911, he had launched a large photographic studio, Pisa Foto, at Columbus and Broadway in San Francisco. Later Gino founded a studio in Oakland and, in 1919, settled in San Jose. Not content to confine his artistry to the formally posed studio portrait, he traveled over the Bay Area countryside with his large wooden field camera, using soft light on the shady side of barns or under large oaks to capture his fellow countrymen. Gino posed them in the coastal mist with machetes poised to harvest cauliflower, perched atop their brandnew motorcycles, assembled by trucks loaded with produce from the fields, sleeves rolled up and holding their vino.
About the Author
Author Carlos Bowden Jr. acquired hundreds of Sbrana’s glass-plate negatives from an acquaintance who discovered them in the basement beneath Gino’s San Jose photographic studio. Carlos realized the collection was both an artistic treasure and a cultural time capsule. Now the owner of a photographic restoration business in Northern California, he provides biographical and historical context for this unique and extraordinary ethnic collection.