Jump to Content

Collection Guide
Collection Title:
Collection Number:
Get Items:
Photographs of San Francisco's Chinatown, Taken by James Wong Howe, 1944
BANC PIC 1996.014--PIC  
View entire collection guide What's This?
Search this collection
Collection Overview
Table of contents What's This?
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 by 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.
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.
29 b&w photographic prints, 21 x 26 cm. or smaller. 29 digital objects
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.
Collection is available for use.