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IMAGES OF CHINATOWN:
THREE DECADES OF PHOTOGRAPHS

BY MAURICE H. EDELSTEIN
Exhibition on View: April 11 - June 7, 1998


      In an exhibition of forty color photographs of San Francisco’s Chinatown taken over the last quarter of a century, Maurice H. Edelstein offers candid glimpses of a colorful, multigenerational, and symbiotic community.

Images of Chinatown #3

      Mr. Edelstein has found the similarities mirrored between Chinese immigrants and Jewish settlers, in their day-to-day struggle to maintain tradition and family through education, work, and humor, to be remarkably identical. The R. print photographs in this exhibition reflect the bonds of affection he feels existing between Chinatown residents and their children. His photographs capture intimate moments in the daily-life activities of a multigenerational community:

Images of Chinatown #3

      According to Mr. Edelstein, "It’s impossible for me to walk through Chinatown without at least one camera. To do so would be like eating chow fun without soy sauce. (Gefilta fish without horseradish?) Where in San Francisco can one get this much color, this much activity? Where in America in such a small area is there such action going on which screams out for picture taking?"

      He is drawn to Chinatown for some other reasons: "My grandparents on both sides came from Europe around the turn of the century. In fact, my mother and her siblings were all born in Poland. Both families arrived in New York City without any money and without any knowledge of English. They spoke only Yiddish. (A few spoke Polish.) They dressed funny. They had a strict diet, so they could only eat certain foods which had to be ritualistically approved by rabbinic authorities. They lived in tenements, crowded into small rooms with big families. My mom slept in a bed with three of her sisters. The older sister had a job in a sweat shop. So she slept in the position closest to the door, so as not to wake the others, as she had to be out before dawn. Sound familiar? What the first wave of Chinese encountered in California is not dissimilar to the discrimination faced by other ethnic groups entering a new land. But the similarities mirrored between the Chinese-Jewish settlers in their day-to-day struggle to maintain tradition and family through education, work, and humor are remarkably identical."

Images of Chinatown #3

      He is drawn to the teeming crowds on Stockton Street on Saturday because "in my mind this is how the streets of the Lower East Side of New York must have looked almost one-hundred years ago. A walk on Stockton Street on a weekend may be the closest replica of a walk on Delancey Street at the turn of the century."

      Because of his own heritage, Edelstein feels "a strong kind of fascination in the exchanges I have observed on the streets in Chinatown, particularly between the very young and the very old, who have learned to sustain each other. The pictures in this exhibit reflect those bonds of affection I feel existent between these people and their children. Each picture has been taken candidly without the subjects being aware of being photographed. The camera is pointed at the subject but my body language is intent on appearing to look in another direction. This method insures the integrity of the moment and protects the privacy of the individual."

Updated: April 20, 1998

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