Arnold did not give up, but used a borrowed camera to document the events of the quake and eventually rebuilt his studio where he started experimenting with the new
One of the most famous pieces of his work is the photograph portraying the aftermath of the earthquake – Looking Down Sacramento St., 1906. [verso:] “San Francisco: April 18, 1906.” From As I Remember by local photographer Arnold Genthe: This photograph shows “the results of the earth quake, the beginning of the fire and the attitude of the people.” It was taken the morning of the first day of the fire. Shows Sacramento St. at Miles Place (now Miller Place) near Powell St.
Below is an excerpt from the book “As I remember” Reynal & Hitchcock: New York, 1936; by Genthe, Arnold.
Chapter 10: Earthquake and Fire
“I found that my hand cameras had been so damaged by the falling plaster as to be rendered useless. I went to Montgomery Street to the shop of George Kahn, my dealer, and asked him to lend me a camera. ‘Take anything you want. This place is going to burn up anyway.' I selected the best small camera, a 3A Kodak Special. I stuffed my pockets with films and started out…. Of the pictures I had made during the fire, there are several, I believe, that will be of lasting interest.
There is particularly the one scene that I recorded the morning of the first day of the fire [along Sacramento Street, looking toward the Bay] which shows, in a pictorially effective composition, the results of the earthquake, the beginning of the fire and the attitude of the people. On the right is a house, the front of which had collapsed into the street. The occupants are sitting on chairs calmly watching the approach of the fire. Groups of people are standing in the street, motionless, gazing at the clouds of smoke. When the fire crept up close, they would just move up a block. It is hard to believe that such a scene actually occurred in the way the photograph represents it.
Several people upon seeing it have exclaimed, “Oh, is that a still from a Cecil De Mille picture?” To which the answer has been, “No. the director of this scene was the Lord himself.” A few months ago an interview about my work–I had told the story of that fire picture–appeared in a New York paper with the headline, “His pictures posed by the Lord, says photographer.””
Shortly after this, Arnold joined the art colony in Carmel where he was able to continue continue his work in color photography. Arnold was able to experiment with color while he was here and this is what he wrote about his experience in his new residence:
“The cypresses and rocks of Point Lobos, the always varying sunsets and the intriguing shadows of the sand dunes offered a rich field for color experiments.”
Arnold lived in Carmel for about two years during which he was appointed as the Board of Directors to the Art Gallery in Hotel Del Monte.
Arnold then moved to San Francisco in 1907 where he set up his studio, displayed his works, wrote reviews for photos and art exhibitions in newspapers.
1911 Arnold moved to New York City where he worked mostly on portraiture and his clients included famous personalities like Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, modern dancers like Anna Pavlova, Isadora Duncan and actresses like Ann Murdock, etc.
Arnold’s cat, Buzzer, would also appear in portraits occasionally with his subjects. Title: Ann Murdock with Buzzer; Creator(s): Genthe, Arnold, 1869-1942, photographer Date Created/Published: 1914. Medium: 1 photograph : autochrome, color ; 5 x 7 in.
Title from left to right: Maude, Bonnie, Miss, with Buzzer the cat, portrait photograph, Whittaker, Miss, with Buzzer the cat, portrait photograph; Creator(s): Genthe, Arnold, 1869-1942, photographer; Date Created/Published from left to right: between 1912 and 1918, 1916. Medium: 1 negative : glass ; 5 x 7 in.
Title: Cluett, Marjorie, Miss, with Buzzer the cat, portrait photograph; Creator(s): Genthe, Arnold, 1869-1942, photographer; Date Created/Published: 1917 Dec. Medium: 1 negative : glass ; 5 x 7 in.
Title from left to right: Bermicchi, Miss, with Buzzer the cat, portrait photograph, Hinckley, Arthur, Mrs., with Buzzer the cat, portrait photograph; Creator(s): Genthe, Arnold, 1869-1942, photographer; Date Created/Published from left to right: 1916, 1913. Medium: 1 negative : glass ; 5 x 7 in.
Title: Damrosch, Anita, Miss, with Buzzer the cat, portrait photograph; Creator(s): Genthe, Arnold, 1869-1942, photographer; Date Created/Published: 1914 Mar. 27. Medium: 1 negative : glass ; 5 x 7 in.
Arnold has published his photographs in books like San Francisco’s Chinatown (1908), New Orleans (1926) and The Dance (1916 to 1929).
Arnold lived in New York 'til 1942 when he died of a heart attack. The Library of Congress (LoC) in 1943 purchased the remaining photographic materials that were present in his studio.
LoC took the initiative to produce an electronic collection of more than 16,000 of Arnold’s negatives, autochromes and lantern slides as a large collection of these negatives deteriorate with age.
Tragically, there are a huge number of his photographic films that remain unprocessed – who knows what fascinating pieces of history these might uncover?