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: