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Vanishing Chinatown: The World of the May's Photo Studio

Grant Avenue, the main street of Chinatown in San Francisco in 1965.
Roger Wollstadt, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Grant Avenue, the main street of Chinatown in San Francisco in 1965.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023 at 11:30 p.m. on KPBS TV / Stream now with the PBS App + Encore Wednesday, May 24 at 4:30 p.m. on KPBS 2

In "Vanishing Chinatown: The World of the May's Photo Studio," hundreds of photographs, serendipitously rescued from a San Francisco Chinatown dumpster, chronicle the lives of an immigrant community from an insider's perspective. Through images from the early to mid-1900s, they reveal the artistry of a preeminent photographer of the time, preserving community life from civic parades to small businesses to fantastic Cantonese opera scenes. These images provide a rare and intimate glimpse of an immigrant community becoming American as seen through the lens of Chinatown’s The May’s Studio Photography.

Vanishing Chinatown

Dreams of an immigrant population are vividly depicted in these sumptuous photographs, conjuring a fantasy that sharply contrasted with the harsh realities of life in a racially restricted Chinatown. The May's Studio spliced together photographs taken in America with the husband laborer and the wife and children taken in China, to create the lasting image of a family unified, in spite of the restrictive Chinese Exclusion Act.


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Vanishing Chinatown Panel Discussion


Ephemera Pictures LLC. Presented by KVIE Public Television. NETA. Emiko Omori, director/editor; Wylie Wong, co-producer; Lydia Tanji, producer; and gayle yamada, executive producer.