Sam Sanzetti, Shanghai photographer

Sam Sanzetti
Sam Sanzetti's having fun

Sioma Lifshitz arrived in Shanghai on a freighter from Vladivostock in 1922. The 20 years old energetic Russian jew had no money but lot’s of dreams and soon started to work in a photography studio under the name of Sam Sanzetti. It took him 5 years to open in own studio in 1927, becoming one of the most famous photographer in Shanghai. The studio was first located on 73 Nanking Road (today 73 Nanjing Dong Lu), near the Bund and just behind the Palace hotel (today Swatch Art Peace Hotel). Construction on the Cathay Hotel (today Peace Hotel) was on-going at that time very and the opening in 1929 certainly also helped his business. The central position in the business center allowed him to become the photographer of the rich and famous in Shanghai, surely meeting with other successful business people of the time.

add for Sanzetti's photo studio
add for Sanzetti's photo studio, Shanghai Dollar Directory 1938

His office later moved to 39 Peking Road (today Beijing Dong Lu) as reported in 1938 Shanghai Dollar Directory. Some of his photographs clearly remind of the calendar ads from the Carl Crowe company located very close on 81 JinKe lu and both men hanging around in similar circles probably worked with each other at some point. Sam Sanzetti left Shanghai in 1957 to immigrate to Israel leaving a Chinese wife and a stepdaughter behind and remade his life in his new country. He had fun memories of Shanghai as explained in an interview with an Israeli Newspaper years later. However he was never able to come back to Shanghai before his death in 1986.

Pretty Sanzetti picture
Pretty Sanzetti picture

The story of Sam Sanzetti could have disappeared in history without his stepson finding rolls of Shanghai pictures in his archives. With the help of Pr Pan Guang of Shanghai Social Sciences university and the Israeli Consulate in Shanghai 200 of these pictures have been recently selected for a future exhibition to be held in Shanghai. The pictures are stunning, as Sanzetti was a great photographer and he made pictures of various kinds of people. With the high price charged by the studio, many people photographed are the wealthy and famous of the time, but personal pictures of Sam Sanzetti are also included. They give very pretty and human vision of Old Shanghai, as rarely seen before. I am sure the exhibition will draw a lot of people to the Palace Hotel (today Swatch Art Peace Hotel) where the exhibition will probably be held.

This astonishing story has even more depth in it. As very little information was available on the people photographed, the Israeli Consulate in Shanghai used modern social media to find further information from the general public. They simply put the picture on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent to Twitter. The response from the public was instant with thousands of people living comments. Hopefully, information will be found to trace back some of the people.

The pictures are available on the Israeli Consulate’s Weibo page:

12 thoughts on “Sam Sanzetti, Shanghai photographer”

  1. Did you find any photos of Victor Sassoon? And how did Sassoon become knighted?

  2. Congrats to your success in Shanghai. “A Glimpse of the Chinese Language” in English is available free of charge at pdf format at for your possible interest.

    BEST to you from Francis Shieh a.k.a. Xie Shihao on Nov. 6, 2011 in Maryland, USA

  3. 7-11-11
    Bonjour Hugues,
    This is a wonderful piece you have written. It is likely that Sioma would have photographed my family while they were in Shanghai. I looked into the Israeli Consulate’s Weibo site, but it is not possible for me to understand as it is in Chinese. I shall contact them to see if it can be transfered to English, in the hope that some of the photos do indeed relate to my family. As Sioma came from Vladivostok, it is possible my family’s path crossed with his also.
    Merci again for your efforts,

  4. I have family pictures taken by Sanzetti. Could you please email me the organization interested to receive copies since the Sanzetti imprint is quite visible. Thank you

    To Linda Schroeder: The Sassoons and the Kadoories were knigthed towards the end of the 19th century for their philanthropic works in the British colonies.

  5. Tanks Liliane, this is very nice piece of information. I will try to look into who to contact here. I have tried to contact them through the Weibo service where the pictures are displayed but they have not come back to me yet.

  6. It’s Kiddy from the Bund Magazine, one of China’s leading newspaper, based in Shanghai.
    We’re very interested in this story and will do a feature story.
    Liliane, great to hear you have family portraits of Sanzetti, I believe you can contact the Israel Consulate. The person to call is Rosita Chen, deputy head of press section.
    And could you please leave your contact information and do an interview?Thank you very much! My E-mail is

  7. Liliane, I just sent an E-mail to you but there was mail delivery failure.
    Could you please send one for me ASAP? I have the Rosita’s contact information for you.

  8. Dear Mr. Sanzetti, My name is Faith Goldman and I am a Shanghailander by osmosis. Meaning, my late husband, Robert Goldman, was born and raised in Shanghai 1940-1958. I saw an article about you in the Igud Yotsei Sin about the photos you have through and including 1957. I would like to see some of them to see if my husband and/or his father might be in the pictures. The goldmans lived at 146 Kingchow Road until 1958. Please contact me. Thank you.

  9. Rear sir, may I have your permission to download the pictures for display. Thank you.

  10. Incredible works of art! How can I find more information about Sam and his family? I have recently started investigating my own family tree and I found out that I am related to Sioma Lifshitz (Sam Sanzetti) who was my great-grandmother’s brother. Would be extremely grateful for any information or contact.

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