Arnold Genthe (1869–1942) photographed images of San Francisco on April 18, 1906 and for at least two weeks after much of the city was reduced to rubble by an earthquake and a subsequent fire that devastated its downtown. While many of his photographs beautifully document the city in ruins, Genthe’s best images centered on candid portrayals of people, the subjects that had always been at the heart of his San Francisco street work.
The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco's photography holdings include at least fifty of Genthe’s negatives (out of a collection of 156) that show different aspects of daily life during the first weeks after the earthquake and fire. Of the 250,000 San Franciscans who lost their homes, many left the city, others stayed with friends whose houses survived, and still others camped in tents that filled Golden Gate Park, the Presidio, and every other open space including cemeteries.
Daily life in the encampments, populated largely by working-class people, was reduced to such basic chores as drawing water, obtaining and cooking food, and washing and mending clothes. There was also time for the socializing and good humor that made life tolerable.