Back in 1988, Catherine Curran Gamble wrote in her preface to a book which would publicize her late father's photographic work of China that it was quite by coincidence and accident that her family's visual heritage had just recently been rediscovered. It turns out that in his photographic endevors, Sidney Gamble, whose first visit to China falls in the year 1917, had a very skilled precursor, namely, John D. Zumbrun.
Comparing many of the images between the two, one discovers similar themes (the horse shoeing image for example, etc.). Zumbrun, of course, had already resided in Beijing long before Gamble arrived, and even longer before Hedda Morrison started to roam the streets of Beijing with her Rolleiflex. It is curious, then, that Zumbrun is virtually unknown, although his residency in Beijing covered over 20 mostly uninterrupted years (1907-1929). The reason for this deficit in our knowledge is similar to the one given in Curran Gamble's preface: his photographic oeuvre had been locked away for the better part of 70 years; the archival rediscovery process is just beginning. By way of a simple introduction, Zumbrun was the owner of the commercially very successful store "CameraCraft" in the Legation Quarters, the official photographer of many Chinese notables, and quite possibly Kodak's main distributor for northern China.
The street scenes presented here are but a small selection of his work. It goes without saying that he was technically astute, and had a gifted eye for composition. Looking at the printout of his archive which I have on my desk, it is clear that his interests were far reaching, from "the man in the street" to the worker in the cloisonnee factory (images 15 & 16) to the traditional trades and crafts as they were practiced in Beijing at the time. Zumbrun paints an extremely rich and diverse canvass of a quickly changing nation, covering parliamentary sessions, the signing of treaties, Puyi's wedding, student demonstrations, and many other critical events. It is to be hoped that with these pages his work will be made more public and recognized for what it is: the earliest and - barring further discoveries of the same nature - the most complete visual documentation of Beijing of the first quarter of the 20th century.
I am exceedingly grateful to Mr. Norman Hodgson and Mrs. Helen Olson (John Zumbrun's daughter, born and raised in Beijing) for making the original prints available. Scanned on my Epson 4990 to 800 DPI TIF, further processing (preliminary digital restoration) in Lightroom and Photoshop.
Thomas H. Hahn
Ithaca & Beijing
© Thomas H. Hahn Docu-Images