by Michael Sterling · 11/21/11
In 1922, Sioma Lifshitz set off for China. He was a twenty-year-old Russian who became disillusioned with the political aspirations of the 1917 Revolution. He would spend the next thirty years in Shanghai, launching a career as a high-class photographer under the pseudonym Sam Sanzetti. Today, Lifshitz is heralded by many as one of the best photographers ever to have worked in Shanghai. When he left for Israel in 1957, he carried in his suitcase some 20,000 photographs that he had taken during his career.
Lifshitz–calling himself Sanzetti–opened his own photography studio in 1927 on Nanjing Road, a commercial street near the Bund, the tourist center and financial district in Shanghai. He photographed all manner of people: celebrities, film stars, young couples, children.
Lifshitz is famous for saying, “You could have found me in Honolulu, if that happened to be the destiny of the ship.” He was speaking of his decision to leave Russia when, quite impulsively, he boarded the next available ship to somewhere. In Shanghai, he apprenticed under an American photographer who taught him the craft, and soon thereafter Lipshitz began to work as Sam Sanzetti.
Lifshitz died in Israel in 1986. For years, his photography was unavailable for public viewing and his name had all but faded from memory. Now, the Israeli consulate in Shanghai has headed the effort to reinvigorate Sanzetti’s name and well-deserved fame in Shanghai.
The consulate hopes to find the stories behind the photographs. They’ve posted many of Lipshitz’s photographs on their Weibo—a Chinese version of Twitter—in hopes that someone will recognize who is in the photograph. Within days, the Weibo post has had thousands of hits and the consulate has received many calls with possible leads.
Oren Rozenblat, the deputy consul general of Israel in Shanghai said of the project: “It will be beautiful to see at the exhibition a very old lady standing in front of her picture as a young bride.”
Visit the Israeli consulate in Shanghai’s website on the digital exhibition here. Satellite Voices, an international photography forum, features some of Lipshitz’s work as well. Read the related article in the China Daily here.