Monday, 14 December 2020

Emile Bocian's Chinatown (Manhattan)

 

Photo © Emile Bocian | Courtesy of The Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA).

The Museum of Chinese in America and The Center for Jewish History have just published a joint online exhibition featuring the photographs of Emile Bocian. These images document New York’s Chinese American community from the mid-1970s through the mid-1980s.

During his years as a photojournalist in Chinatown, Bocian amassed an archive of approximately 120,000 photos and negatives, largely featuring the places and faces of his adopted neighborhood; which is the largest Museum of Chinese in America's photograph collection.

MOCA's exhibition website tells us that "Emile Bocian photographed Chinatown from 1974 to 1986, a period of extreme transition for the community. During the 1980s, the neighborhood saw rapid growth due to an influx of immigrants from Guangdong and Hong Kong. The New York Chinese community has continued to evolve and grow, expanding into Chinatowns in Brooklyn (Sunset Park) and Queens (Flushing)."

We are also told that Emile Bocian (1912-1990) was the son of Eastern-European Jewish immigrants, and was perhaps the only non-Asian resident of Chinatown’s iconic Confucius Plaza apartment complex at the intersection of Bowery, Doyers Street, and Division Street in the 1970s and 80s.

It's particularly interesting to me as I gifted about 40 high resolution monochromatic photographs to MOCA earlier this year. The photographs were made during my weekly walks in Chinatown during the earlier days of the COVID19 pandemic, when its streets were largely empty and devoid of their usual energetic bustle. I expect these photographs -whether they are exhibited in public or not- will serve as a historic record of Chinatown for generations to come.