One of my very favourites, this Berlin born photographer’s career began after he emigrated to San Francisco in 1895. Originally a learned scholar with a doctorate in philology, he moved there to work as a teacher but then taught himself photography also. His first fascination was with the Chinese section of the city, and sometimes with a hidden camera he photographed the opium addicts, the children, the bypassers. These are the photos that made him famous in the first place, and next he could afford to open a portrait studio. Unfortunatelly the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 along with fires destroyed his studio, but the earthquake aftermath photos he took remain legendary. He rebuilt but moved to New York City in 1911 and remained there for the rest of his life working in portraiture which includes Isidora Duncan and other dancers as well, before becoming one of the first to experiment with autochrome.
In his photography, his training in the classics is evident. His work is that of a romantic poet. His significance of course is evident in the development of documentary photography, since he was one of the very first to walk around and capture what he saw, the changes and life in a society, as well as major tragic events without adding needless melodrama to it. He remains, however, a very important and influencial art photographer as well. Even though he began as an amateur his incredibly keen eye and vivid imagination earned him a place amongst professionals very quickly. His pictures are considered one of the most solid examples of idealism and impressionism in the art of photography. Because of his subject choice as well as his approach he is listed as one of the creators of modern photography. Despite the limitations of his time, he photographs new subjects but also manages to give an unrestricted and cinematic feeling to his work, breaking with conventions, at the same time often turning to ancient greek and latin for inspiration.