Monday, September 12, 2011

New San Francisco Museum Photography Exhibit: An exclusive look at Romantic never-seen Views of Paris in the Fifties. Dreamy.

Stunningly beautiful newly discovered photography by San Francisco artist Benjamen Chinn reveals classic Paris scenes, historic squares, and captured candid reveries.

For Francophiles like me they are heart-stoppingly beautiful.

Come for a visit and see a long-forgotten collection of historic images of eternal Paris. Makes me want to time travel.

Benjamen Chinn: Paris 1950-1951
New Photography Exhibition Illustrates Parisian Street Life

Long-forgotten master photographer Benjamen Chinn (1921–2009), equipped with two large-format cameras—four-by-five Linhof view camera and a Rolleiflex—traveled to Paris to photograph Parisian street life from 1950 through 1951. His innate sense of form and composition was acquired over many years of creating intimate portraits of everyday life in San Francisco's Chinatown.

He was fortunate, indeed. In Paris Chinn studied sculpture with Alberto Giacometti at the Académie Julian, took painting classes at Fernand Léger's school, and studied geography and philosophy at the Paris-Sorbonne University. This was, of course, at a time when Paris was still the major art and culture center, an essential and desired stop for anyone with artistic aspirations and a sense of romance.

In Paris, Chinn photographed 'capture-the-monent' subjects, including families, musicians, children, students, shopkeepers, workers, and daily Parisian life. Without the use of a darkroom, he developed the photographic negatives, but he never printed or saw any of the images until after he returned to San Francisco.

The Photographer:
I must admit I had never heard of Benjamen Chinn, nor had I seen his Cartier-Bresson-level work, which came to light upon his recent death.

Benjamen Chinn was born on Commercial Street in San Francisco's Chinatown in 1921. Chinn's interest in photography started when he was ten years old. His older brother, John, taught him how to develop and print photographs in the family basement, which they had converted into a darkroom.

Later, during World War II, Chinn used his photography skills as an aerial and public-relations photographer for the U.S. Army Air Corps based at Hickam Field, Honolulu, Hawaii.

After the war, Chinn returned to San Francisco and enrolled in a new, fine art photography program at the California School of Fine Arts, now the San Francisco Art Institute, where Ansel Adams and Minor White trained the next generation of fine-art photographers. Lecturers included Edward Weston, Imogen Cunningham, Lisette Model, and Dorothea Lange.

Benjamen Chinn: Paris 1950-1951 is an enduring photographic record by a gifted and important chronicler of urban-street life at home and abroad. This exhibition of a robust and charming Paris of the past reveals the artist's profound sensitivity and technical skill.

Essential Details:

Benjamen Chinn: Paris 1950-1951 is on view in San Francisco International Airport, Terminal 3, Boarding Area F, from September 2, 2011 through December 1, 2011. The exhibition is located post-security and is only accessible to passengers ticketed for travel through Terminal 3. There is no charge to view the exhibition.

SFO Museum:

SFO Museum was established by the Airport Commission in 1980 for the purposes of humanizing the Airport environment, providing visibility for the unique cultural life of San Francisco, and providing educational services for the traveling public. The Museum has the distinction of being the only accredited museum in an airport. Today, SFO Museum features approximately twenty galleries throughout the Airport terminals displaying a rotating schedule of art, history, science, and cultural exhibitions, as well as the San Francisco Airport Commission Aviation Library and Louis A. Turpen Aviation Museum, a permanent collection dedicated to the history of commercial aviation. For more information, please visit


All photos courtesy of The Benjamen Chinn Photographic Archive with express permission granted by The SFO Museum.


Brillante Interiors said...

Hi Diane,
the images are stunning, full of memories of a recent past. Chinn is definetely a master, representing daily life in its "decisive moments" like Cartier-Bresson. The picture with the white horse and a light movement of his leg is precious.

Kaveri Singh said...

Stunning images I completely agree with The Cartier Bresson comparison yet he definitely has his own unique flavor. There is such an incredible sense of glamour even in the most ordinary of tasks.

Windlost said...

Oh, I would love to see it. Definitely more spontaneous and dynamic than Bresson, but the same kind of vibe, isn't it?! I saw a wonderful Bresson exhibit 20 years ago when I was a graduate student in Paris. One can never forget his work. Lovely post. Thanks for sharing...

Regards, Terri

littlebadwolf said...

Thanks, Diane,
For introducing us to Benjamen Chinn's unique way of seeing. He moves beyond technique to give us his own special Paris, and it is wonderful to be there.


Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Dear Friends-

Albarosa, Kaveri, Terri and Little M--

Loved your comments! I was so delighted to discover Benjamen Chinn! I had never heard of him. I've conducted a lot of research of San Francisco history. His niece (who calls him 'Uncle Bennie') discovered boxes of his film (some undeveloped) in his little apartment in Chinatown after he died.
He lived alone. 'He never married' they say.
He lived in the heart of Chinatown...and can you imagine that he went to Paris to study art in the Fifties. How wonderful that his family sent him there--very rare and generous. And to study with Giacometti and Leger and others. Then his work was mostly mundane afterwards. I think he must have been very shy. This is his first show. The photos are so emotionally rich, varied--and technically perfect. He was a fine editor of 'the moment' exactly when it was right. I'm so honored to be the first to show this work.
It would be worth a trip to San Francisco airport to see this show...Albarosa, a hint!
best, DIANE

Grant K. Gibson said...

I think that I will have to plan a trip just to see these and arrive early with a cup of tea (after clearing the screening section- which I have mastered. No belt, all in a tote bag- slip on shoes- speedy and fast!)



Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Hi Grant-

Happy to hear from you. Yes Security must be mastered! I go into a zen mindset...alert and relaxed, mindful and focused.
I'm delighted to reveal these images by Benjamen Chinn for the first time to my readers--and just regret that to see it, you have to be flying via SFO, and must go through security. A good excuse to take a quick flight into San Francisco.
Interesting: I heard today from photographer Christopher Flach (check my blog archive to read more about him)--who used to hang out in Chinatown with Ben Chinn and photographed him there, living very quietly.
Ben was working for the military in France, aerial photography, when he went to study in Paris.
The Paris photos--are everyone's dream of Paris. I'm pleased my readers have been touched and inspired.
cheers, DIANE

mbwife said...

these photos are so evocative

helen tilston said...

Hello Diane

Thank you for the introduction to Benjamin Chinn. What a treasure and one also wonders about him, like you say, "was he shy"? should he have remained in Europe?. We shall wonder.
I hope his work travels to other cities, so he get the exposure he deserves (pun intended)

Helen xx