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The Evasive Bodies of May’s Photo Studio: Complete Video

ArtsWest Lecture at Stanford University
December 12, 2017

Presented as part of the Center's ArtsWest Initiative, Professor Marci Kwon’s lecture explores the remarkable body of photographs produced by May’s Photo Studio, one of the most prominent Chinese-run photography studios in San Francisco’s Chinatown. From its opening in 1923 until the mid-1960s, the wife-and-husband Isabella May Lee and Leo Chan Lee documented weddings, special events, Cantonese opera productions, and even produced erotic photographs for Chinese immigrants during the height of the Chinese Exclusion Act. The resulting archive, currently housed in Stanford Special Collections, offers an unprecedented snapshot of daily life in San Francisco Chinatown from the perspective of its inhabitants, akin to James Van Der Zee’s famed photographs of Harlem.

The symposium was organized by the Bill Lane Center for the American West's ArtsWest program, in association with the Stanford University Libraries and the Stanford American Studies Program.

Read a recap of the ArtsWest lecture: Stanford Professor Reflects on a Photo Studio’s Contribution to Chinatown History

Held November 30, 2017 at Stanford University

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  •   Lecture by Prof. Marci Kwon, Stanford University (00:00) cue video    
  •   In a Dumpster, a Chance Discovery (01:56) cue video    
  •   May’s Photo Studio (03:32) cue video    
  •   The Lee Family (06:16) cue video    
  •   “The Social Ligaments That Bound San Francisco’s Chinatown” (08:14) cue video    
  •   Access to Intimate Spaces (08:50) cue video    
  •   Moving to the Sacramento Street Storefront in 1931 (10:17) cue video    
  •   Relationship to Cantonese Opera (17:51) cue video    
  •   Theatrical Backdrops and Chinatown’s “Exoticizing” Architecture (22:27) cue video    
  •   Hand-Colored Portraits Promoted Opera (27:19) cue video    
  •   Role of Chinese Exclusion Act (29:52) cue video    
  •   Chinatown and the Harlem Renaissance (40:20) cue video    
  •   Exerpt from “Trashed” Documentary (42:51) cue video    
  •   Audience Q & A (49:29) cue video