Benjamen Chinn was a native California photographer, born in 1921 in San Francisco’s Chinatown, who became known as a key member of the “Golden Decade” group at the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco (now the San Francisco Art Institute). During World War II, Chinn served in the Pacific as an aerial and public relations photographer for the U.S. Army Air Corps. After the War, he returned to San Francisco and enrolled in a new fine-art photography program at CSFA. The program, inaugurated in 1945 by Ansel Adams and Minor White, was the first in the country dedicated to fine art photography. The first years of the program, known as the “Golden Decade,”cultivated a close-knit group of photographers who were not only technically adept, but also keenly tuned to their own visual voice and the artistic potential of their medium.Chinn, in particular, excelled in capturing intimate details of everyday life in the post-war era.
As a student, he gained recognition chronicling the unique and changing world just
outside his doorstep in San Francisco. Throughout the rest of his career, Chinn traveled
frequently; his photography is marked by an innate sensibility for form and composition,
as well his curious and unassuming nature behind the camera. This series of photos was
taken during his trip to Paris from 1950-1951.
In 1950, Benjamen Chinn, equipped with two large-format cameras—one four-by-
five Linhof view camera and a Rolleiflex— traveled to Paris to photograph Parisian
street life. During this time, the 29-year-old Chinn continued his art training: he studied
sculpture with Alberto Giacometti at the Académie Julian, took painting classes at
Fernand Léger’s school, and studied geography and philosophy at the Paris-Sorbonne
In Paris, Chinn photographed families, musicians, children, students, shopkeepers,
workers, street-performers– every aspect of daily Parisian life. Without the use of a
darkroom, he developed the photographic negatives, but he never printed or saw any
of the images until after he returned to San Francisco. Benjamen Chinn: Paris, 1950–
1951 is an enduring photographic record of a vibrant city emerging after World War II.
This exhibition offers insight into a robust yet cagey Paris of the past, and reveals the
artist’s profound sensitivity and technical skill.