Arnold Genthe is best remembered for his photos of San Francisco’s Chinatown, the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, and his portraits of notables, from celebrities to politicians. Maybe that list should also include cats.

A self-taught photographer, Genthe opened a portrait studio in San Francisco in the late 1890s. His clientele grew to include personages like silent actress Nance O’Neil, theater legend Sarah Bernhardt, poet Nora May French, and author Jack London. In 1911 Genthe moved to New York City, where he concentrated primarily on portraiture, photographing such towering figures as Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and John D. Rockefeller. And all the while, he was photographing cats. Among the more than 1,000 images of Genthe’s photographs in the Library of Congress Collection in the Artstor Digital Library, there are 82 that include cats, usually accompanying women, but occasionally alone. More than half of these feature his beloved cat Buzzer (or perhaps that should be “Buzzers,” as he used that name for four cats).

Born in Germany in 1869, by 1895 he would be living in San Francisco, California, serving as the tutor to a Baron’s son. There, he would gain access to a camera, become adept at its use and begin documenting his travels around the city, especially in Chinatown....

His earliest photographs, with the exception of photos he took in Chinatown, would be destroyed by the city’s devastating 1906 earthquake and fire. But with a successful career that spanned 3 decades, the Library of Congress has archived thousands of his photographic images — the negatives and other materials were purchased from his estate after his death in 1943. During his lifetime, like many people of his...
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Morgane Darielle


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