This time, we’ll pick a random name from the list of drafts, and – lucky me – this time it’s a German-born photographer. Upon first seeing this man’s images, my mouth fell open a slight. Such Beauty and elegance in such a simple form! I will soon be attempting my first wet and dry plate photography but the autochromes specifically have ignited an interest in this separate process all on their own.
Arnold Genthe was born on the 8th of January 1869 in Berlin, Prussia, to Louise Zober and Hermann Genthe, a professor of Latin and Greek at the Graues Kloster (Grey Monastery) in Berlin. Arnold followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming a classically trained scholar; he received a doctorate in philology in 1894 from the University of Jena. He emigrated to San Francisco in 1895 to work as a tutor, and it is here that he taught himself photography. After local magazines published some of his photographs, he opened a portrait studio in 1897.
He was intrigued by the Chinese section of the city and photographed its inhabitants, from children to drug addicts. Due to his subjects’ possible fear of his camera or their reluctance to have pictures taken, Genthe sometimes hid his camera. He also sometimes removed evidence of Western culture from these pictures, cropping or erasing as needed. About 200 of his Chinatown pictures survive, and these comprise the only known photographic depictions of the area before the 1906 earthquake. The earthquake and fire also destroyed Genthe’s studio, including his equipment, but his prints survived and he rebuilt. His photograph of the earthquake’s aftermath, Looking Down Sacramento Street, San Francisco, April 18, 1906, is his most famous photograph.
In 1908, he also started making autochromes, a process he had been experimenting with from 1905 onwards. Genthe travelled widely in South America, Japan, and Germany, photographing landscapes and architecture, and in 1910 exhibited at the International Exhibition of Pictorial Photography in Buffalo organized by Alfred Stieglitz. Relocating to New York in 1911, he flourished as a celebrity portraitist, photographing the likes of Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and John D. Rockefeller. His photos of Greta Garbo were credited with boosting her career. He also photographed modern dancers, including Anna Pavlova, Isadora Duncan, and Ruth St. Denis, and his photos were featured in the 1916 book, The Book of the Dance. He would remain in New York until his death of a heart attack in 1942.
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