Historic New England acquires photographs of diners and Boston’s Chinatown from artist John Woolf

Feb 5, 2021

Documenting the ever-changing look of the region

John Woolf has worked as a photographic artist for more than forty years. His photographs of Boston’s Chinatown and diners in the Northeast are part of his effort to document the transformation of the American urban architectural landscape and the fast disappearing twentieth-century roadside architecture of the Northeast industrial corridor.

In this time of change for so many New England communities, Historic New England believes it is important to document the things we cherish that are fast disappearing. John Woolf’s work explores two New England treasures.

The images of Boston’s Chinatown document a neighborhood that is undergoing many changes. The area is facing threats from a downtown building boom, escalating housing costs, and rapid gentrification. At the same time, independently owned restaurants and other small businesses are struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic. Woolf’s photographs document the Chinatown many are hoping to preserve.

Woolf’s images of regional diners highlight a style of dining that was first introduced in New England and preserves images of locations that often serve as informal community meeting spaces. These eateries, with their bright neon lights, booth and counter seating, and menus that offer something for everyone, are endangered New England institutions.

More than 450,000 photographs in Historic New England’s collection

“The addition of these photographs to our collection is significant not only because of their quality and subject matter, but also because they align with Historic New England’s initiative to explore and document the enormous diversity of the region,” said Senior Curator of Library and Archives Lorna Condon. Woolf’s photographs join a collection that contains many of New England’s leading nineteenth and twentieth-century photographers. You can explore more of our vast collection of photography through our Collections Access portal.

Learn more

John Woolf has spent the last several years documenting Boston’s rapidly changing neighborhoods. Sign up for our March 10 virtual program, Documenting Twenty-first Century Boston: A Conversation with Photographer John D. Woolf, to learn more.