Many major cities have an area where the Chinese communities congregate and live. Chinatowns are legendary in major cities like San Francisco, New York, Seattle, Los Angeles and Chicago. Photographer Tony Schwartz chose to focus his lens on Boston’s Chinatown, connecting with locals who gave him access and insight into the local culture and community. Photographed in black and white, these intimate portraits of the people and place, give a documentary style insiders look into a vibrant community rich in culture.
About Chinatown –
Chinatown is the only true immigrant-derived ethnic enclave left in Boston, my hometown. My interest in this community was sparked by witnessing street scenes identical to those I had experienced while visiting China. Since the late 1870’s, Chinatown historically has served as a home for Chinese immigrants and laborers, and as a textile center. It now is a community fighting, so far successfully, to keep itself intact; it is the hub of the Chinese community of greater Boston. In this exhibit I wish the viewer to see beyond the restaurants: The workers and residents in Mary Soo Hoo Park, playing cards and Chinese “chess,” while speaking only Chinese; stores selling traditional herbal medicines; bakeries making and selling typical Chinese pastries; and the existence there of branches of many international Chinese family associations. The Chinese language and culture still are very much alive in Chinatown, despite the threats it faces from the powerful forces of gentrification, compression of its space, and an affordable housing crisis. As a second generation American, I can identify with the stories of the several immigrants I interviewed and photographed, who discussed their history and their families’ successes since coming to the United States. As in the case of other immigrant groups, they are making our city, region and nation both stronger and more vibrant, while also enriching its soul.
We asked Tony about his experience with the Atelier –
Which of these images was the impetus for this series? How did it inform how you completed the series?
I was walking through Chinatown and saw men playing cards and Chinese “Chess’” outdoors in the Mary Soo Hoo Park, exactly as I had seen when traveling to China. The photos taken of them doing this led me to wish to know and see and photograph more.
What do you hope we as viewers take away from viewing your work?
Seeing Chinatown as more than a bunch of ethnic restaurants, but as an ethnic enclave rich with culture. It is one of the many immigrant communities that have made our country successful and interesting.
How the Atelier has helped you hone your vision as an artist?
I had done two other series of images and interviews, both of which have been published as photobooks. I was searching for something new in direction, but after trying several different mini projects during the Atelier, it became clear to me that this is what I really love to do: Photograph people and tell their story in images and their own words.
Tell us what is next for you creatively.
I plan to do much more with this project, which I consider to be half done. More interviews and more images/portaits, to tell their stories. I believe that the story of a people is best developed by telling individual stories rather than deciding on a summary.
I thank profusely two people without whom this exhibition would not have been possible. These are Susan Fung and Eric Schwartz, who are co-authors on the narrative aspects of this project. Susan provided her time and guidance and introduced me to important components of the Chinatown landscape, her Gin Family Association and the people I interviewed and photographed. She also served as translator when necessary. My son Eric Schwartz created a video record of the interviews, without which the narratives for the project would have been incomplete.
About Tony Schwartz –
Tony Schwartz is a fine art and documentary photographer residing in Boston, MA and Peru, VT, USA. He has done drawing, oil painting and clay sculpture, but since retiring from a career in academic veterinary medicine at Tufts University, in 2005, he has devoted himself fully to photography.
Tony has traveled extensively and while his subject matter includes landscapes and animals, he most enjoys portraying people, their environment and their culture. He does this through showing the images of individuals, in combination with relating their personal stories. He believes that individual stories, in sufficient numbers, tell the story of a people and their culture. He has produced three photobooks. His latest, 2019, such effort concerns the serious impact of ecotourism and mountain gorilla protection on the Batwa Pygmies of Uganda. He was invited to present this story through a photo essay in the Solstice Literary Magazine in 2019; it is on-line in the Social Documentary Network; and he has lectured about it at Tufts University, at the Griffin Museum of Photography, and will do so again at Brandeis University in April 2020.
Tony’s photographic education and training were at the New England School of Photography in Boston, at Cone Editions in Vermont. He participated in several photo workshops with Karin Rosenthal, where he served as the printing assistant, as well as in travel workshops in Tanzania, Morocco and Mexico. He has received many awards for his work, regionally and nationally, including two from Santa Fe Workshop competitions. Internationally, he has been a Charles Dodson Gala Award finalist.
Tony Schwartz has had solo exhibitions at the Copley Society of Art in Boston, where he is a juried member and “Copley Artist,” at the Griffin Museum of Photography, and at the Southern Vermont Arts Center. He has exhibited in many juried regional and national exhibitions, and internationally in Ottawa, Canada and Barcelona, Spain. His work is represented by the 3 Pears Gallery, in Dorset, VT; his art licensing agent is Suzanne Cruise Creative Services, Inc., Leawood, KS.
For more information and to see more of Tony Schwartz‘s creativity log onto his website.