Among the Ruins

Arnold Genthe’s Photographs of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Firestorm
Cameron. Oct. 2021. 240p. ed. by Karin Breuer. ISBN 9781951836153. $45. PHOTOG
When earthquake and fire began devastating San Francisco the morning of April 18, 1906, Arnold Genthe, a successful portrait photographer for the city’s elite, grabbed a No. 3A Folding Pocket Kodak, whose small size was ideal for roaming the streets and recording the fast-moving disaster. He was one of the only eyewitnesses to leave a significant record of the earthquake (one of the first American disasters to be extensively recorded). Upon Genthe’s death, the California Palace of the Legion of Honor acquired the photo negatives. This monograph documents the excellent curatorial work of the museum and partner institutions (e.g., digital archiving company Chicago Albumen Works).

VERDICT Although some of these images have been previously seen, showcased for the first time here are the superbly clear, detailed prints made from the digital scans of all the negatives, with their astonishing immediacy. Includes an in-depth essay about Genthe’s movements through the city and insightful scholarship about the social fabric of San Francisco of that era.
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