Coming Spring 2020

Earthquake 1906: The Photographs of Arnold Genthe

Berlin-born photographer Arnold Genthe (1869–1942) was an established member of San Francisco’s art community when the 1906 earthquake struck. Although Genthe was physically unharmed by the shaking, the inferno that swept through the city in the quake’s aftermath destroyed Genthe’s studio, including his photographic equipment and most of his negatives. Armed with a borrowed hand-held camera and pockets full of roll film—the latest in photographic technologies—he roamed the streets and documented the destruction, producing more than 150 views of the destruction. With a unique artistic perspective, Genthe’s images record the sudden and shocking transformation of a modern American metropolis into a post-apocalyptic disaster zone.

After the earthquake, Genthe printed very few of his 1906 negatives and rarely exhibited or published them. Following his death in 1942, the Legion of Honor purchased Genthe’s original earthquake negatives from his estate. Earthquake 1906: The Photographs of Arnold Genthe showcases more than eighty gelatin silver photographs newly printed from ultra-high-resolution scans of these negatives, comprising many images which have until recently been unknown. They will be presented alongside prints made by Ansel Adams, Mark Klett, and the artist himself. Museum visitors will experience immersive environments and digital interactives juxtaposed with early twentieth-century cameras, film, and darkroom materials, and see links between old and new image-capturing technologies.

Image: Arnold Genthe, “Untitled (Facade with Three Arches in Ruin)” (detail), 1906. Gelatin silver print, 10 9/16 x 13 13/16 in. Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Achenbach Foundation for the Graphic Arts, Museum purchase, James D. Phelan Bequest Fund, 1943.407.69.2



This exhibition is organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Presenting Sponsors: John A. and Cynthia Fry Gunn. Additional support provided by Dagmar Dolby, Lucy Y. Hamilton, and an anonymous donor.