Arnold Genthe (1869-1942) a self taught early 20th century photographer originally studied the classics and had earned a doctorate in Philology before deciding to pursue photography. Born and raised in Berlin, he travelled to the Unites States and decided he did not want to return. Genthe wrote in his autobiography, “I belonged in this new country which had broadened my horizons, opened my eyes to a new conception of life and shown me a way to satisfy my desire for beauty.” He never returned to Germany and became a U.S. citizen in 1918. Probably most famous for his photos of the devastation of the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, he was also known for his work in portraiture. He photographed U.S. presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson who remarked, “I had to hold myself tight while I was looking at those pictures. I was so carried away with delight.” The philanthropist and founder of Standard Oil, John D. Rockefeller as well as the elusive actress Greta Garbo and the well known dancers of the day Anna Pavlova and Isadora Duncan sat for him. He even persuaded the author Jack London to shed his clothing for a rather risqué photo. Genthe was one of the first photographers to experiment with color photographs and was the first to have a color photograph on the cover of a magazine. Beginning in 1906, Genthe photographed a number of socialites and young girls with a cat he named Buzzer. Using four different cats all named Buzzer, the series of photographs spans over ten years. Each of the women in the photographs exudes either a matronly or seductive aura while Buzzer in some photos looks as if he can barely tolerate being in the arms of these socialites. Perhaps the use of the cat was meant more as a symbol of the duality of the female nature instead of depicting the snobbish intolerance and indifference of Buzzer.
Genthe wrote in his autobiography, As I Remember (1936), “It is told that at the age of four, when I was taken by the nurse to look at my newly arrived brother Hugo, I seriously remarked, ‘I’d like a little kitten better.’ I am fond of dogs, but cats have always meant more to me, and they have been the wise and sympathetic companions of many a solitary hour.”