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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Arnold Genthe

Dates:  1869, 8 January - 1942, 9 August
Born:  Germany, Berlin
Died:  US, CT, New Milford
Active:  US
 
  
American photographer born in Germany. His reputation is largely based upon his portraits of celebrities in dance, the theatre, the cinema and politics. He also took photographs of daily life in the Chinatown of San Francisco - and in 1906 photographed the fire that devastated the city after the earthquake.
 
The Library of Congress purchased the photographic materials from his studio when he died. The collection includes approximately 10,000 negatives and 8700 contact and enlargement prints and is available online (www.loc.gov/rr/print/coll/092.html),

Preparing biographies

Approved biography for Arnold Genthe
(Courtesy of Christian Peterson)

 
  
Genthe made a name for himself as both a pictorialist and a portrait photographer, working from the turn of the twentieth century into the 1930s. Based first in San Francisco and then New York, he produced a number of picture books, including one of the few autobiographies by a pictorialist.
 
Born in Berlin on January 8, 1869, Arnold Genthe went on to study the classics at the University of Jena, where he received his Ph.D. He came to the United States in 1895 with aspirations to be a painter, settled in San Francisco, and took up photography as a hobby. Two years later, he opened a portrait studio and was soon attracting sitters in music, literature, and the visual and performing arts, many of whom were friends and fellow members of the Bohemian Club.
 
By 1899, Genthe was exhibiting in pictorial salons around the country and overseas. Over the next thirty years, he showed in San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York, Toronto, London, Paris, and elsewhere. He joined the Camera Club of California (San Francisco) and had a one-person exhibition there in 1907. In 1903, he was on the jury for the San Francisco salon and in 1910 his work was included in the International Exhibition of Pictorial Photography, organized by Alfred Stieglitz for Buffalo’s Albright Art Gallery.
 
Genthe’s San Francisco studio was destroyed by the 1906 earthquake, but he secured a small camera directly afterwards and documented the fire that ultimately destroyed much of the city. His image looking down a damaged street, with people observing the smoke below, is perhaps the iconic image of the event. A year later, he was one of the first to make Autochromes, the earliest viable color process that produced fine-grained images as glass transparencies. Genthe was drawn to San Francisco’s Chinatown and published a book of spontaneous, soft-focused images of it in 1908.
 
In 1911, Genthe relocated to New York, where he opened a portrait studio on Fifth Avenue. His career flourished there, as he photographed famous men and beautiful women. Financiers and at least three presidents sat for him; Theodore Roosevelt, William Henry Taft, and Woodrow Wilson. He was particularly interested in modern dancers, working extensively with Isadora Duncan and others. This led to the release of The Book of the Dance in 1916. Two years later, Genthe obtained United States citizenship.
 
During the 1920s, Genthe involved himself with the Pictorial Photographers of America, serving on one of its committees. In 1922 and 1926, dance photographs by him appeared in the group’s annual, Pictorial Photography in America. During this time, he photographed in New Orleans, interested in its Old-World architecture and ethnic communities. His soft-focus photographs subsequently appeared in the 1926 title Impressions of New Orleans.
 
Genthe traveled extensively during his lifetime, photographing and collecting Asian art. Among his destinations outside of the United States were Guatemala, Greece, Morocco, and Japan. His travels and other pursuits were recounted in his autobiography As I Remember, published in 1936 and reprinted at least twice. Arnold Genthe died on August 9, 1942, in New Milford, Connecticut. 
  
Christian A. Peterson Pictorial Photography at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (Christian A. Peterson: Privately printed, 2012) 
  
This biography is courtesy and copyright of Christian Peterson and is included here with permission. 
  
Date last updated: 1 June 2013. 
  
SHARED BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION PROJECT 
  
We welcome institutions and scholars willing to test the sharing of biographies for the benefit of the photo-history community. The biography above is a part of this trial.
 
If you find any errors please email us details so they can be corrected as soon as possible.
 
  

Further research

 
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Sidney P. Kahn
Photographer Arnold Genthe 
1937
 
  
Family history 
  
If you are related to this photographer and interested in tracking down your extended family we can place a note here for you to help. It is free and you would be amazed who gets in touch. 
  
alan@luminous-lint.com
 
  
 
  

Visual indexes

 
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Internet biographies

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Wikipedia has a biography of this photographer.Show on this siteGo to website
Getty Research, Los Angeles, USA has an ULAN (Union List of Artists Names Online) entry for this photographer. This is useful for checking names and they frequently provide a brief biography. Go to website
Grove Art Online (www.groveart.com) has a biography of this artist. 
[NOTE: This is a subscription service and you will need to pay an annual fee to access the content.]
Show on this siteGo to website
 

Printed biographies

The following books are useful starting points to obtain brief biographies but they are not substitutes for the monographs on individual photographers.

 
• Auer, Michele & Michel 1985 Encyclopedie Internationale Des Photographes de 1839 a Nos Jours / Photographers Encylopaedia International 1839 to the present (Hermance, Editions Camera Obscura) 2 volumes [A classic reference work for biographical information on photographers.] 
  
• Beaton, Cecil & Buckland, Gail 1975 The Magic Eye: The Genius of Photography from 1839 to the Present Day (Boston and Toronto: Little, Brown & Company) p.139 [Useful short biographies with personal asides and one or more example images.] 
  
• Capa, Cornell (ed.) 1984 The International Center of Photography: Encyclopedia of Photography (New York, Crown Publishers, Inc. - A Pound Press Book) p.224-225 
  
• Lenman, Robin (ed.) 2005 The Oxford Companion to the Photograph (Oxford: Oxford University Press)  [Includes a short biography on Arnold Genthe.] 
  
• Witkin, Lee D. and Barbara London 1979 The Photograph Collector’s Guide (London: Secker and Warburg) p.149-150 [Long out of print but an essential reference work - the good news is that a new edition is in preparation.] 
  
 

Useful printed stuff

If there is an analysis of a single photograph or a useful self portrait I will highlight it here.

 
• Gruber, Renate and L. Fritz Gruber 1982 The Imaginary Photo Museum (New York: Harmony Books) p.248 
  
• Sobieszek, Robert A. and Deborah Irmas 1994 the camera i: Photographic Self-Portraits (Los Angeles: LACMA - Los Angeles County Museum of Art) p.218, Plate 21 [When the Audrey and Sydney Irmas collection was donated to LACMA - Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1992 the museum gained a remarkable collection of self portraits of notable photographers. If you need a portrait of Arnold Genthe this is a useful starting point.] 
  
• Szarkowski, John 1973 Looking at Photographs: 100 Pictures from the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art (New York: The Museum of Modern Art) p.54 [Analyzes a single photograph by Arnold Genthe.] 
  

Collections

Photographic collections are a useful means of examining large numbers of photographs by a single photographer on-line. 
  

 
In the 1990 survey of 535 American photographic collections Arnold Genthe was represented in 56 of the collections. Source: Andrew H. Eskind & Greg Drake (eds.) 1990 Index to American Photographic Collections [Second Enlarged Edition] (Boston, Massachusetts: G.K. Hall & Co.) 
  
Library of Congress, Washington, USA 
  
Approximate number of records: >5000 
Note: A single record may contain more than one photograph.
Click here
 
  
 
  
 
  
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