These fifteen photographs (on 12 plates) represent what I at present consider to be the first "coherent" visual documentation of Chinese life in San Francisco.
Chinese Practices - Indelible Photographs was published as a small booklet by Adolph Wittemann and Joseph Hofmann (both publishers of souvenir albums) in 1892.
Depicted are very typical scenes, in an atypical environment:
- A Dragon dance
- A theatre actor
- A vegetable vendor
- A young woman with bound feet
- A funeral procession and banquette
- Offerings to the dead (ancestor worship)
- Fortune telling
- A book keeper's offices
- A joss house
- Opium smoking
- Western (?) man with Chinese wife
All of these photographs capture Chinese life in this important California city as highly integrated, uncontested, while at the same time demonstrating a genuine cultural identity and heritage. They were taken some years before Arnold Genthe (arriving in SFO only in 1895) started to develop an interest in the Chinese urban presence, and - as stated above - may well constitute the first public and published photographic record of Chinese life in San Francisco.
Thomas H. Hahn
© Thomas H. Hahn Docu-Images