Information for Researchers
Scope and Content
Collection Title: Photographs of San Francisco's Chinatown, Taken by James Wong Howe,
Collection Number: BANC PIC 1996.014 -- PIC
29 b&w photographic prints, 21 x 26 cm. or smaller.
29 digital objects
James Wong Howe
The Bancroft Library. University of California, Berkeley.
Berkeley, California 94720-6000
Information for Researchers
Collection is available for use.
Copyright has not been assigned to The Bancroft Library. All requests for permission to publish photographs must be submitted
in writing to the Curator of Pictorial Collections. Permission for publication is given on behalf of The Bancroft Library
as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must
also be obtained by the reader.
Copyright restrictions also apply to digital representations of the original materials. Use of digital files is restricted
to research and educational purposes.
[Identification of item]
Photographs of San Francisco's Chinatown, BANC PIC 1996.014 --PIC, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
Digital Representations Available
The Photographs of San Francisco's Chinatown collection was purchased in 1996.
James Wong Howe was born Wong Tung Jim on August 28, 1899 in Kwantung (Canton), China. He moved to the United States at age
5. After pursuing a career as a professional boxer in the Northwest, Howe moved to Los Angeles and became a delivery boy for
a commercial photographer. In 1917 Howe entered the Hollywood film industry and soon became an assistant cameraman, working
with such notable directors as Cecil B. DeMille. In 1922 he became a director of photography and quickly established a reputation
as an inventive and meticulous craftsman. Initially known as James Howe, his Chinese name was added by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
in hopes that a more exotic-sounding name appearing on film credits would enhance publicity for both Howe and the studio.
In industry circles, Howe acquired the nickname of Low Key Hoe for his distinctive application of low-key photography. Howe
also pioneered the use of deep focus and the hand-held camera. Howe won Academy Awards for his cinematography for
The Rose Tattoo (1955) and
Hud (1963). Throughout his career Howe was also active as a still photographer. James Wong Howe died in 1976.
Other notable films featuring the cinematography of Howe include
Peter Pan (1924),
The Thin Man (1934),
Mark of the Vampire (1935),
The Prisoner of Zenda (1937),
They Made Me a Criminal (1939),
Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942),
Body and Soul (1947),
He Ran All the Way (1951),
Come Back Little Sheba (1953),
The Sweet Smell of Success (1957),
The Old Man and the Sea (1958), and
Funny Lady (1975).
Scope and Content
The Photographs of San Francisco's Chinatown collection contains 29 photographs taken by James Wong Howe during World War
Two documenting the assimilation of Chinese Americans. The collection is only a portion of a larger group of photographs commissioned
Look magazine in 1944 "to get behind the tourist front" of San Francisco's Chinatown. The collection features various workers,
children, soldiers, and youth in an attempt to illustrate the degree to which Chinese Americans had been assimilated into
mainstream American culture and were thus supportive of the United States' war efforts. Included among the photographs are
scenes of Chinese American home life, schooling, recreation, dining, and work places such as a newspaper press, child care
center, telephone switchboard, construction site, pawn broker, and various offices.
Chinatown, San Francisco (issued December 26, 1944; pp. 22-27), explains the magazine's choice of Howe as the photographer for the article, gives
a brief history of Chinese Americans, makes a claim for the Chinese American allegiance to the United States' war cause, and
presents a series of 18 fully captioned photographs taken in Chinatown. Though most of the prints in the collection are uncaptioned
with the exception of classificatory information, some include hand-written versions of the captions found in the
Look article. The series arrangement of the present finding aid is generally based on the subject headings found on the print
versos. Some information contained in the bracketed captions, though not included on the versos, is taken directly from the
Look captions. Captions in the container listing marked with an asterisk (*) were included in the original
In addition to the captions and subject classifications, the print versos also contain various numberings and a hand stamp.