PRINT March 1964


Hal Roth at the San Francisco Museum of Art

For “Some Images of Chinatown” Mr. Roth has created an imaginary day in the life of the Chinese community; at the beginning, an old woman surveys the new day from her window; at the end, a merchant adds up his accounts after everyone else has gone to sleep. Between morning and night, Roth takes us to schools, a funeral, the theatre—all external, public events that could be seen by any curious tourist. Roth’s understanding is tourist superficial, and his photographs are shallow and pedestrian. At best, they look as if his photographic imagination had been weaned on back issues of the National Geographic; at worst, they are frankly awful. A clear candidate for one-of-the-worst-photographs-I-have-ever-seen is Roth’s picture of two little boys playing with chopsticks, some balls, and a glass of water. The heads of the boys are brutally chopped in two to fit, not the idea or the design, but the paper. In his introduction to his show, Roth writes with tinkling fatuousness of a culture made up of happy, happy people, strangers to crime and violence—a veritable paradise in our midst. Thus his mind has seen no more than his camera—nothing of the crowding of a dozen or more families into a tiny apartment building, nothing of the conflict between the old Chinese culture and the modern Chinese-American teenager. For a deeper insight into Chinatown, take the Gray Line Tour.

Margery Mann