Why Chinatown? It is probably one of the most photographed neighborhoods in San Francisco. Originally, I wanted to explore some of the less-frequented neighborhoods of the city. I was in search of something unique to both San Francisco and to me. As I set out each day, I found myself heading to what I discovered was the most unique neighborhood by the Bay, Chinatown.
As I arrived at the intersection of California and Stockton Streets the unique smells of Chinatown welcomed me. There was the pungent, nose tingling smell of dried, salted fish in the entrances of the many little shops. Also, the aromas of the slightly, overly ripe fruits and vegetables next to boxes of dried mushrooms and roots of all sorts in the open markets that mingled with the warm, comforting scent of exotic spices from behind the foggy windows of the dim sum shops drew me in further. Floating above all of this was the almost sickeningly sweet, perfumed, smoke from the incense wafting through an open, third-story window indicating that there was a temple above our heads.
On busy weekends, it was impossible to ignore the unique sounds of this neighborhood. First there are the many layered intonations of a language that I have tried to learn but I just cannot seem to master. Then the dulcet tones of music that resembles buzzing bees and screeching cats to my uneducated ear; the hawkers at the markets yelling out their daily specials; old women yelling to young children at the playground; tourists laughing at the various Mao-themed or goofy Alcatraz souvenirs in the doorways of the shops in the lower part of Grant Street. Then there are the eerily quiet alleyways that reveal in whispers their secret shops, temples, and gambling halls that only the locals know.
These smells, sights, and sounds are all indicative of activity, community, and culture. I want this book to illustrate the liveliness of the community that welcomed me while I photographed their daily activities and their festivals, including the New Year’s Parade celebrating the Year of the Tiger. This community is one in which the old and the young still bond through their shared culture. Many of the Chinese have moved out of the small confines of the neighborhood, yet they travel back, often daily, keeping the cultural connection strong for future generations in this Chinatown by the Bay.
This book will be available on August 5, 2010 as a limited edition with a photograph from the book at Modern Book Gallery located at 49 Geary St., 4th Floor, Suite 411, San Francisco, CA 94108. If you purchase this book through Blurb and would like a print sent to you, please contact me via my website at www.neeleymain.com
humanity Published March 21, 2010