Frank Jang at the Chinatown Photographic Society in San Francisco.
As a visitor walks down the steps to the gallery space, he’s greeted by the buzz of people discussing photography. Bright lighting illuminates dozens of great photographs mounted, framed and arranged on the walls. Photographers are looking through their portfolios of work, giving each other advice. In a separate room, a group of photographers is crouched around a computer screen, clicking through images and discussing which is best.
This is the Chinatown Photographic Society (CPS) in San Francisco, and it’s a hub of creative energy, humming with purpose and resulting in an incredible high level of artistic work on the walls.
And, surprisingly, most of the photographers in the room are 50+. Many of the Society’s members are in their 60s, 70s and 80s. The oldest member is 94. He, along with several other current members, were on hand at the start, when the CPS was formed 48 years ago. Just think: in 1967 San Francisco was in the throes of “The Summer of Love” and Chinatown was the undisputed center of Northern California’s Chinese community and culture.
I love New York City’s Chinatown. I spent many afternoons wandering its streets when I was an art school student in the 1970s in Brooklyn, and I spent nights wandering its streets when I worked for six months in Jersey City on the other side of Manhattan several years ago. There’s no feeling like it — crowded streets teeming with people, shops overflowing onto the sidewalks, amazing arrays of food and enticements everywhere, the sound of Cantonese and now, more often Mandarin, echoing everywhere. The streets are a tangle; they start out like a grid but then alleyways curve off and what looks like nooks hide more restaurants to try.
San Francisco’s Chinatown is more of a straight line, and though it’s also great, it doesn’t hold the same sense of discovery that New York’s does. Chicago’s is good. LA’s is nice. Boston’s is cool too. DC’s is kinda pitiful.
But New York — THAT’s Chinatown! Carved out as if it were its own country with Canal Street serving as the hard boundary between it and Little Italy just to the north, Chinatown rises above New York’s energy with a spirit that’s its own, and unique.
So imagine my surprise when I found out recently that that bustling district of Manhattan, along with the Wall Street area south of Chinatown, has never had a Chinese American representing its citizens and businesses in New York’s City Council.
Until now, that is. Margaret Chin, a 56-year-old longtime community activist who was born in Hong Kong, is the front-runner to win that pioneering position this Tuesday. (Thanks to APA for Progress for turning me on to the CNN story about Chin.) Continue reading