The Lost World of The May's Photo Studio
It's the King Tut's tomb of Chinese American photography.
Imagine finding hundreds of stunning photographs of San Franciso's Chinatown from the 1920s to the 1950s thrown in a dumpster. Who created these exquisite worlds of fantasy and imagination and why were they trashed?
What could have been the end of a story, instead became the beginning of another.
When widower Leo Chan Lee died in the mid-1970s, the contents of The May's Photo Studio went into the trash. More than 700 photos and glass negatives were rescued from oblivion by then-penniless art student, Wylie Wong. Soon after, art collector George Berticevich found and purchased some 1,200 photographs and backdrops at a Sausalito flea market.
These arresting images by Leo and Isabelle May Chan Lee, proprietors of The May’s Photo Studio, are the heart of our story. Their body of work presents a vibrant community that flourished despite racial discrimination and severely restrictive laws: family associations, sports teams, parades, raising money for famine victims in China, Chinese opera stars and productions, and the beginnings of a middle class. These images show Chinatown’s socio-political, economic, and cultural history from an insider’s perspective.