Monday, May 13, 2013

The slanted post

San Francisco has a great photo scene, and I got to hang out and talk shop last weekend with several wonderful locals. I enjoyed gallery hopping, street shooting, coffee, beers, and meals (in varying amounts but roughly chronological order) with Stephen McLaren, Wayne Bremser, Jack Simon, Nick Haymes, Stan Banos, and Joe Reifer. Thank you all for your hospitality and company, and for sharing your wonderful city with me! Especially Stephen, who graciously offered a spare bed just minutes from the downtown core. I am eternally grateful. 

Stephen lives just around the corner from skid row. Every city's got one. Usually they're tucked away but San Francisco's is proudly displayed front and center, adjacent to City Hall and skyscrapers and tourist central. Can't miss it. Interesting sights and smells, and I left plenty of work prints around, but I found it hard to shoot there. I was more comfortable in the surrounding, less downtrodden areas.

I enjoyed walking around the Mission neighborhood. Here's a photo by Jack Simon taken around 24th and Alabama. That's me asleep against the wall on the far left with backpack, and Stephen McLaren walking in front of the light pole. I'm sizing up the scene for my own photo. I took a few but I have no idea yet how they turned out.

It was fun wandering around with Jack. He showed me a store which specialized in pirate supplies, owned by Dave Eggers I think. I'd never been in one of those before. They sold lard, muskets, lanyards, anything a local pirate could ever want. You wouldn't think there'd be enough demand to keep a store like that afloat, but many of the hipsters on Valencia were dressed as regular customers, although none of them looked capable of shooting a cannon. They'd have to put down their iced double swiss mocha lattes to do that. 

At Rayko I found a great little book by Sam Grant called La Rue. Never heard of him before. I looked pretty closely at the images and there is absolutely no tint of the contemporary world in them. They look like photos from 100 years ago, even though all were made recently in modern cities. That's hard to pull off unless you're shooting pure nature or nudes. And it was only about 5 inches wide and fit easily into luggage, so I couldn't resist.

SF is chock full of photo galleries, and many hosted multiple shows of classic work. I can't list everything, but Little Big Man was a highlight. It was great to finally meet Nick Haymes and browse his awesome book shelves. He's got quite a little empire going, with many exciting projects in the pipeline. Then he and I drove to an opening in the Tenderloin with 3D photos mounted to pressed board. I think that's the first photo show I've seen where the photos present physical hazards to viewers. You really had to watch your head near them. Then Nick had to go feed his kids so he dropped me back in the heart of skid row and I caught up with Stan Banos nearby for a few pints. 

The most pleasant surprise gallerywise was Michael Jang's work at Stephen Wirtz Gallery, a photographer I hadn't known about before. It only took a few photos to make me a convert. I looked at the one below for a while. As my father in law is fond of saying, Holy Darn!

A photo like that can't be planned. Heck, you can't even photograph it unless you're pretty special. And why is there no flash on that window? Jang's the real deal. Here's me near another photo by him, shot by Joe Reifer with whom I was gallery hopping that day.

This was a weird coincidence. We'd just come from Modern Book Gallery upstairs and I'd picked up a souvenir card there of Brian Duffy's Alladin Sane cover photo of Bowie. Five minutes later we walked into Wirtz and this was one of the very first photos on the wall, a child holding that same album, printed at the exact size as my postcard. WTF? I was in a b/w mood after seeing that.

Here's Joe (with camera) and I an hour later at the nearby Buddha Bar trying to figure out what just happened. Why was Alladin Sane playing on the Jukebox there? And what about the red street posts Joe had photographed at a slant? A few beers later we were no close to figuring any of it out. The world was starting to blur...

I grew up in the marijuana capital of the world and I'm no stranger to pot, but even I was surprised by the extent to which weed has infiltrated the daily fabric of San Francisco. Walking around downtown and surrounding neighborhoods, the smell of good strong pot lingered on many street corners. I saw it smoked openly and without hassle, and no one gave it a second thought. This acceptance is probably coming eventually to the rest of the U.S., or at least to its coasts --Oregon is about 5 years behind-- but in San Francisco the future has arrived now. For all practical purposes, prohibition is over. Hooray. Wish I was 22 again with more brain cells.

So what about the Winogrand show? Ah yes, I suppose that was the reason for my trip. Or an excuse to plan around. What can I say that hasn't been said? I'd studied the book and checklist already, so none of the images was a huge surprise. But to see them nicely printed and displayed on a wall...Well, that's an experience a book or screen can't convey. The vintage prints were generally fantastic, if maybe clustering toward the dark end, and the new prints were also excellent though maybe a bit flat. Not complaining exactly, just commenting. 

I know Winogrand's work fairly well but looking at room after room of it was a reminder of how often he just nailed it. Every wall had two or three photos which made me mutter, oh yeah, that one's fucking fantastic. You can say all you want about editing and compulsiveness and style, and read whatever theories you want into his life and work. When it comes down to it, the proof is in the photos. Some of them anyway, but that's a big some. I think it's greater than the some of its parts.

I was with Wayne Bremser for Winogrand. Then we went to the roof for coffee where Wayne shot me with his cannonball-sized camera before we took the stairs down. One level below Winogrand was a small selection of historic street photos that would've headlined any other gallery, but was rather dwarfed by Winogrand. Still fun to see though. 
Christian Marclay, from Things I've Heard, at Fraenkel Gallery
On that same level was Christian Marclay's The Clock. Everyone I met over the course of the weekend encouraged me to see this, but the line was at least a half hour long and I wasn't patient enough to wait. At heart I'm a just smalltown hick who avoids lines. And judging by Marclay's photos which I saw later at Fraenkel, I think I made the right choice. They were OK I guess, in the vein of a thousand Eggleston imitators who focus on the immediate world around them and show how special it is, but not really in a special way. Sorry, that sounds harsh, but I think that style of photography works best when it conveys something about the person behind the viewfinder. These felt anonymous. But hey, I hear anonymous is in. Anyway I think he may be more suited to filmmaking. The Clock is supposedly amazing. Just couldn't find the time for it.

My last night I crossed the bay to visit with an old high school friend for the first time in 4 years. I've known him for about 30, since before I ever picked up a camera. We had dinner and then a few beers and the subject of photography didn't come up once! So see everyone, I'm not a total nerd. I can talk about other stuff sometimes. When I have to. 

The morning of my departure my airport shuttle was late. I'm anal about time --that's why I couldn't wait around for the clock. I paced and brooded, then finally began tossing items overboard. Somehow my Leatherman had made it through security on the flight down, but I didn't like my chances flying back. It usually turns up in X-Ray, and then you need to mail it to yourself and go through the line again. The thought of all that delay made me nervous. I decided to jettison. I put it in the bottom of a nearby newspaper box, then carefully laid the last of my work prints over it. My gift to anyone curious enough to look closely at a photo. Probably worth at least a two day fix to someone on skid row.

I came back to Eugene yesterday with 35 rolls of who knows what, plus plenty of Instax photos. Home sweet home. 


China Plate said...

I like the first picture with Stephen and you in it, who took it? It reminds me of the Friedlander shot with the down and out and the deflated bottle. Looks like you had fun Blake.

Blake Andrews said...

As described in the post, it's by Jack Simon.

See you soon, China Plate...

jannx said...

Instax is the deal!

Yger said...

You crossed "sleeping against the wall" - for China Plate?

troy holden said...

That's a nice haul of exposed AP400 rolls.

I heard from Freestyle that they are discontinuing that stock and as such I've hoarded 1000 rolls in my cool, dark basement.

Blake Andrews said...

I've heard similar rumors. I'm not sure why they would discontinue a product with proven marketability. But whatever. If Freestyle ever runs out I now know which house to break into for resupply.

Ben said...

You look like Winogrand in the green shirt photo.

We just got back from Amsterdam and Copenhagen (among others) last week. It's hard not to get high just walking around A'dam and the Christiania neighborhood in Copenhagen. No pix allowed in the "Green Zone" in Christiania. :(

I bought a space cake at the Bulldog in A'dam. First high in 30 years and one of the best ever!