Sidney D. Gamble's Photographs
Sidney D. Gamble (1890-1968), an avid amateur photographer, began taking pictures in China during his first trip to the country with his family in 1908. He returned three more times between 1917 and 1932 and continued photographing the daily life of Chinese citizens. A sociologist and renowned China scholar, he traveled throughout the country to collect data for social-economic surveys and to photograph urban and rural life, public events, architecture, religious statuary, and the countryside.
Gamble used a few of the photographs from his extensive collection in his scholarly publications and in slide lectures, but the majority of images were never published or exhibited during his lifetime. The Sidney D. Gamble Photographs digital collection marks the first comprehensive public presentation of this large body of work that includes photographs of Korea, Japan, Hawaii, San Francisco, and Russia.
About 15 years after Gamble’s death, his daughter, Catherine Curran, found his nitrate negatives in a closet in the family’s home in New York. Stored in beautiful rosewood boxes, the negatives were housed in individual paper sleeves, annotated with typed and handwritten captions. In order to better preserve them, Ms. Curran hired an archivist who transferred the negatives into archival sleeves and transcribed the captions onto typed labels that were affixed to the new sleeves. In addition, Ms. Curran made contact sheets of all the negatives in the order in which they were found. She used these contact prints to create ten photograph albums to serve as a reference for the negative collection.
In 1986, Catherine Curran established the Sidney D. Gamble Foundation for China Studies to provide for preservation and access to the photographs. Dr. Nancy Jervis and Dr. Wang Xing partnered with Ms. Curran to bring the photographs to a worldwide audience. Nancy Jervis served as Vice President and Director of Education at the China Institute in New York City. She worked closely with Ms. Curran to organize two exhibitions of Gamble’s photographs at the China Institute. China Between Revolutions: Photographs by Sidney D. Gamble, 1917-1927 was shown in the summer of 1989 and then toured the United States under the auspices of the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES). China Fast Forward: Photographs of Daily Life, 1917-2002, which combined Gamble’s photographs with modern photographs, was exhibited at the China Institute in 2004.
Dr. Xing wrote his dissertation on Gamble, “Social gospel, social economics, and the YMCA: Sidney Gamble and Princeton-in-Peking,” University of Massachusetts, Amherst, 1992. In 1999 he was instrumental in organizing an exhibition of Gamble’s photographs entitled Turbulent Years: China Before and After the May Fourth Movement for the National Museum of Chinese History. Dr. Xing later curated an exhibition of Gamble’s photographs that traveled to a many Chinese cities from 2000 to 2007 before it was donated to a museum in China. (For a full list of exhibitions based on the Gamble collection, please see the exhibitions link on this site.)
The Sidney D. Gamble Foundation also coordinated publication of Sidney D. Gamble's China, 1917-1932: Photographs of the Land and its People (1988), China Between Revolutions: Photographs by Sidney D. Gamble, 1917-1927 (1989), and Sidney Gamble's China Revisited: Photographs by Sidney D. Gamble from 1917 to 1931 (2004).
The Gamble Collection at Duke University
A review of the exhibit catalog for China Between Revolutions prompted the Duke University Libraries' Visual Materials Archivist to invite Ms. Curran to place Sidney Gamble’s photographs in the Libraries' Archive of Documentary Arts. An agreement to bring the Gamble collection to Duke was signed in March 2006.
The Duke Libraries contracted with Chicago Albumen Works in Massachusetts to digitize the highly-flammable nitrate negatives. Digitization of the Gamble collection began in October 2006 and continued through the spring of 2007. In addition to the photographs, Chicago Albumen Works also digitized the typed image labels and used optical character recognition (OCR) to transform the labels into raw text. This text became the foundation for the image captions and geographic headings in the Sidney D. Gamble Photographs digital collection.
Duke Libraries' Digital Collections staff worked to update the geographic names in the labels to Library of Congress Subject Headings format, to add province names to the metadata, and to standardize the descriptions to support searching and browsing. Staff also created an interactive map documenting the places Gamble visited on his journeys, as well as a geographic index and a keyword index in traditional and simplified Chinese characters. Later further Chinese-language translations were added and additional materials were digitized, such as the slides from the 1908 trip, correspondence, and printed items. The Web site will continue to grow and evolve to support research, teaching, and learning.
The photograph captions in the digital collection are based on the handwritten and typed descriptions found on the original negative sleeves and believed to be the work of Sidney Gamble. The captions and photographs may contain language or stereotypes reflecting the cultural perspective of the era. This content is provided as part of the historical record and does not reflect the views of the Duke University Libraries.
Copyright and Permissions
The materials in this collection are made available for use in research, teaching, and private study. Texts and images from this collection may not be used for any commercial purpose without prior permission. Copyright in these images is held by Duke University Libraries and the heirs of Sidney D. Gamble. All rights are reserved, except as specified above. When use is made of these texts and images, it is the responsibility of the user to secure any necessary permissions and to observe the stated access policy, the laws of copyright, and the educational fair use guidelines. For permission from Duke University, please contact the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.
The photograph captions are based on the handwritten and typed descriptions found on the original negative sleeves and believed to be the work of Sidney Gamble. The captions and photographs may contain language or stereotypes reflecting the cultural perspective of the era. This content is provided as part of the historical record and does not reflect the views of the Duke University Libraries.
[Identification of item], Sidney D. Gamble Photographs, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.