12th Annual BronzeLens Film Festival

Vanishing Chinatown: The World of The May's Photo Studio

Available in 22d 09h 05m 08s
Available August 17, 2021 4:00 AM UTC
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Vanishing Chinatown: The World of The May's Photo Studio brings families together: in the past by splicing together family portraits in spite of family separations due to the Chinese Exclusion Act, and in the present by reconnecting May's granddaughter with her family's legacy. These stunning photographs show San Francisco Chinatown in the early to mid-20th century, a vanishing "old Chinatown" vibrant with culture; an immigrant community becoming Americanized. The photographs were almost lost, but art student Wylie Wong rescued 700 photographs trashed in a dumpster. Corinne Chan Takayama, granddaughter of the photographers Leo and Isabella May Chan Lee didn't know what had happened to the photographs, but forty years later found that Wylie had saved some of the photographs. We interweave Corinne and Wylie as Corinne tells personal stories sparked by the photographs and Wylie, along with other historians and Cantonese opera performers, explain the historical background and artistic value of the images. The importance of family, preserving memories and dreams of earlier generations, identity, and a creative resistance to racist laws and societal constraints are the main themes in Vanishing Chinatown. During these Trumpian times of immigrant family separations, detention, and deportations, Vanishing Chinatown is an urgent reminder of hardships Chinese immigrants endured during the 60 years of the Chinese Exclusion Act, and resonates with other immigrants today. The fusion of Eastern/Western, and traditional/modern are illustrated in the May's Studio portraits with hand-painted backdrops, and in the photographs of Cantonese opera which were influenced by Western cinema. Through Corinne's memories and stories of her family we are able to visualize how her grandparents fulfilled the American Dream, particularly Leo, who arrived as a Paper Son and became a prosperous businessman, creative photographer, and civic activist. The May's Studio Chinatown photographs parallel James Van Der Zee's Harlem photographs, and should be recognized for their artistry, and their historical and anthropological importance. We hope Vanishing Chinatown will spark more questions about other Chinese American photographers, the Cantonese opera, and the legacy of family histories.

  • Year
  • Runtime
    28 minutes
  • Language
  • Country
    United States
  • Premiere
  • Director
    Emiko Omori
  • Screenwriter
    Emiko Omori
  • Producer
    gayle k. yamada, Lydia Tanji, Wylie Wong
  • Cast
    Corinne Chan Takayama, Wylie Wong