Looking from the view out my window on 3rd Street at Harrison, then back to Janet Delaney’s image of the same intersection 30 years ago, I have to look twice because I don’t recognize it. Delaney’s photographs from her project, “Form Follows Finance: A Survey of the South of Market District of San Francisco, 1978-1985” were taken at the cusp of a remarkable transformation. Part of the South of Market area of San Francisco was being altered structurally: a convention center, surrounded by hotels and high-rises, replaced two-story wood-frame buildings that had housed 700 businesses and 5000 residents. An even larger part of the transformation of South of Market has been the restructuring of the use of existing space. As industry moved out, artists moved into the warehouses. As families with children migrated to the suburbs, the gay community moved into the apartments. Along with these newcomers, and in spite of various plans to clear-cut the area for development, South of Market remained a vital mix of immigrant families, small businesses, and light industry.
The historic aspect of photography has always fascinated Delaney. However, she did not intend these large-format color images to be a pretty representation of the past. She wants to emphasize that a closer look will often reveal complexities.
People were moved out, neighborhoods destroyed, jobs lost in the ten block area set aside for the construction of the Moscone Center. The surrounding area documented here was greatly impacted as rents skyrocketed. Trendy restaurants and stores make for a colorful urban scene. Who pays?
Looking out on the city more than 25 years later, the multiple forces that shape urban ecology can be clearly traced. The impact of the recession, the earthquake, the dotcom boom and bust, as well as revised approaches to urban planning have all altered the original intention of the “City Fathers” of the l950s. The hindsight/insight provided by this documentary project gives a perspective on how we perceived the changes we thought were to come. As we look out at the city today we can assess in what form those changes have actually arrived.
Janet Delaney’s photographs prompted me to look at other San Francisco-based documentary photographers whose subject is this iconic city and its residents that we often overlook. “San Francisco Days” depicts our beloved city in distinct ways by eight photojournalists who call her home:
Lou Dematteis is sharing his black and white photographs of the Mission Low Rider Scene from 1979-81, including the violent police crackdown ordered by then Mayor Diane Feinstein that brought an end to it. The photographs were part of the historic exhibit “Otra Onda” curated by Rene Yanez at the Galeria de la Raza in 1981. Photographer/filmmaker Lou Dematteis has lived and worked in San Francisco’s Latino Mission District for over 30-years. His latest project is “The Other Barrio”, a Noir feature film about greed, corruption, the clash of cultures, and justice, shot primarily in the Mission.
John Harding is a street photographer who lives and works in San Francisco. The photographs on display are from the 1980s and have recently been published in the book Analog Days. Sandra Phillips from SFMOMA wrote an eloquent introduction to this book which will be available during the exhibition.
In 2002, Gabriela Hasbun decided to start documenting some of the Mission’s most colorful establishments. San Francisco’s Mission District has long been the home of the working-class retailer. Between the 1906 earthquake and World War II, Mission Street was proudly known as the “Mission Miracle Mile.” Second only to San Francisco’s Union Square shopping district, Mission Street provided a shopping haven for goods and services of high quality. As a symbol and testament to its name, there were two decorative bridges on each end of Mission Street, beginning on 16th street and ending on Cesar Chavez.
The Mission has historically been a neighborhood for the immigrant, and to this day the “Miracle Mile” holds true to this tradition. Jewish, Irish, Italian, and Hispanic families reside and work in this area. The neighborhood is now changing dramatically. Since the early 2000’s, the area has seen a large influx of coffee shops, boutiques and pricey restaurants that are making the Mission popular to young tech entrepreneurs.
This series of images hopes to capture the essence of the small businesses that have been in the neighborhood for over 30 years. JJ O’Connor Florists, an establishment that came to Mission Street over a hundred years ago, was among the oldest in this tradition and one of the many Gabriela has been lucky to photograph. Sadly, it shut down, as have many of the others that are documented in this series.
In 2008, when André Hermann was exploring the old Washington Packing Corp building he surprised a group of homeless scrappers, or metal thieves, who were stripping what was left of the building for any metal scrap that they could sell for a profit. This encounter developed into a very interesting 6-month experience for Hermann. He developed a relationship with the men and spent all of his time under a freeway in a homeless camp, eating and scrapping with a very dynamic community who’s only interest was to survive.
We’ve all seen pictures of rock and roll, but Michael Jang’s “Garage Band” documents where it really starts, with teenagers. These kids are so young–14, 15 years old–that they can’t go out to clubs or anywhere else to play. Instead, they do the only thing they can and create their own scene in their parents’ garages.
In the mid-1980s, we called it Tire Beach, the bay near Pier 70 in San Francisco. Mimi Plumb photographed there regularly. The bay and the beach were filled with thousands and thousands of rotting tires, and other fragments of civilization – televisions, bullet-ridden cars, bed frames and broken chairs. The pier off to the right, the Western Pacific Railroad 25th Street Pier, was vacant and dilapidated. It had once been a busy ferry landing in the 1950s. One day the pier caught fire, and Plumb along with hundreds of others watched it burn to its cement foundation. She hasn’t been back for years although Tire Beach now has the official name of Warm Cove Park.
And no San Francisco story would be complete without the Tenderloin. Andrei Riskin’s images were inspired by the story of Scott Vincent, a run-away, who spent his early teens there. Because of changes in San Francisco’s demographics as well as the emergence of AIDS, Polk Street was transformed from a “Red lights district” in the 80′s and 90′s into an affordable housing neighborhood with a few bars, liquor stores and fetish shops. These images are part of “Polk Street Project”, which is a reminiscence of what the place used to be.