Sunday, 28 May 2017

Sam Sanzetti | Old Shanghai

Photo © Sam Sanzetti - All Rights Reserved
Working on my forthcoming multimedia project "The Red Qi Pao" has whetted my interest in Shanghai of the 1930s or so, and I stumbled on the work of a photographer born at the start of the 1900 in Russia, and who -for survival reasons - settled for a while in that city 20 years later.

The story is fascinating. Sam Sanzetti (born Sioma Lifshitz), a young Jewish Eastern-European made his way to China with his parents, and worked at menial jobs until having to flee to Shanghai during the Japanese occupation.

He was able to build up the most successful photography studio of the day in Shanghai, eventually opening up four branches throughout the city. When he left China for Israel after 30 years, in the late 1950's, he did so with 20,000 photographs in his bags.

In Shanghai, Sanzetti  started working at the studio of a local photographer, and after a few months became so interested in studio work that when an American business man offered to establish a studio for him in Shanghai he was quite willing to accept the offer. 

Sanzetti was said to be one of the best photographers in China at the time, and had managed to open four studios in 1922, including a flagship studio on old Nanjing Road dedicated to portraits of local residents. He took photographs of people from all walks of life celebrities, film stars, young couples, families and children.

He had married a Chinese and acquired a stepdaughter, but they did not follow him to Israel. He married again in Israel, and his stepson there inherited his pictures and his passion for photography.

A number of links provide more information of Sam Sanzetti's life and work, such as American Photo's The Unlikely Shanghai Portrait Studio of Sam Sanzetti, Shanghailander, and Photography of China.