Sidney D. Gamble's Photographs

Sidney Gamble

Sidney D. Gamble

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 to 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, the majority of images were never published or exhibited during his lifetime.

About fifteen years after Sidney Gamble’s death (in 1968), his daughter, Catherine Curran, found a trove of 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 1986, Catherine Curran established the Sidney D. Gamble Foundation for China Studies to provide for preservation and access to the photographs. Gamble Foundation organized an exhibit in 1989 in New York. A review of the first exhibit catalog 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.

Digitization of the Gamble collection began in October 2006 and continued through the spring of 2007. In addition to the photographs, the typed image labels were digitized and transformed into raw texts. This text became the foundation for the image captions and geographic headings in the Sidney D. Gamble Photographs digital collection.

There are nearly 5000 black and white photographs and 600 colored slides and a documentary film in the collection. They represent an extraordinary contribution to the visual archive for an important period in Chinese history from which few images survive today. Through his education in the social sciences, Gamble brings to his photography an informed perspective that extends beyond the simple documentation of the passage to modernity. His intimate photographs of people in the midst of a transitioning society demonstrate a sensitivity to individual humanity and the phenomena of everyday life. This broad array of portraits of men and women engaged in the various activities of public life provide us with a glimpse of social change not as a mere institutional process, but as the lived experience of a diversity of people. There have been three major exhibitions, the first two were organized by Gamble Foundation, the third and most recent exhibit was curated by Duke University Libraries in China.

In the course of acquisition Duke obtained rights to these materials. As of 2019, the underlying works entered the public domain in some jurisdictions, but are still protected in others, including the United States. To encourage reuse and avoid doubt, Duke hereby waives any intellectual property rights it retains in these materials under the terms of the CC0 waiver. We encourage collaboration with publishers and others who wish to create works based on these materials. Please see for additional information.