Mission District Photographer's Final Show Becomes a Memorial

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One of Ted Pushinsky's photos of the Mission District (Ted Pushinsky)

In a fitting tribute to recently-passed photographer Ted Pushinsky, his memorial will be held the night his final exhibit closes.

Local Stories: Photos of San Francisco ends its run at Acción Latina’s Juan R. Fuentes Gallery on Feb. 24. That night, the gallery hosts a public memorial for the 71-year-old photographer who died last month of prostate cancer.

Pushinsky, who documented life in San Francisco's Mission District for decades, died on Jan. 23 -- nine days after Local Stories opened. The opening of the exhibit, which features photos from his 30 years in the neighborhood, had been the "most well attended exhibition opening ever" at the gallery, according to Acción Latina.

"We broke every attendance record we’ve had. Ever," Acción Latina co-curator Josue Rojas said. "People have made pilgrimages from far and wide to come see his work."


Born in Queens, New York, in 1946, Pushinsky moved to San Francisco in 1969. There, he hustled photography work, landing gigs with the San Francisco Ballet, the boxing magazine Ring and whatever else came his way.

But his love was street photography. His wife and son say Pushinsky always had a camera on him and that he frequented the streets of the Mission District, which was nearby his house on Potrero Hill. He could be seen often cruising up and down 24th Street, talking with people and taking their photos.

"He created a unique community by walking the streets of SF and meeting and talking with people on the way," Pushinsky's wife Kathy Katz said.

Pushinsky said that he spent so much time in the Mission because it felt like being in another country.

"When I was still a teenager, I lived in Mexico City and it was a real revelation for me, I was mad for it. I never wanted to close my eyes. Not too long after that, I moved to San Francisco and I moved into the neighborhood and, oh my God, I was back in Mexico,” Pushinsky told El Tecolote last month.

In later years, Pushinsky became a mentor of sorts. He began contributing to Ray Potes's Hamburger Eyes photography zine in the early 2000s, and when Potes opened the Photo Epicenter gallery on 24th Street, Pushinsky spent hours there, hanging out and giving advice to the young photogs that began congregating there.

"It was huge because were were young and didn't know what we were doing, so to have him want to hang out with us meant a lot," Potes says.

Mark Murrmann, photo editor at Mother Jones magazine, says that Hamburger Eyes and its gallery helped ignite a new generation of street photographers, and that Pushinsky's influence on that scene "can't be overstated."

"He was always so enthusiastic and supportive of other people’s work. And even though he’d been shooting for years before most of the younger people were even born, he was so humble and helpful," Murrmann said.

Pushinsky's son Jake says he doesn't think his father saw himself as a mentor because "he was always young at heart."

"When he talked about younger photographers, he called them his peers," Jake Pushinsky said.

Rojas says Pushinsky will continue to inspire other photogs with the large body of work he left behind.

"It makes you want to carry a camera around your neck and go out and experience something," Rojas said.

Ted Pushinsky in 2014, in front of his childhood apartment building in Woodside, Queens, NY where he lived until he was about 9 or 10 years old.
Ted Pushinsky in 2014, in front of his childhood apartment building in Woodside, Queens, NY where he lived until he was about 9 or 10 years old. (Courtesy of Jake Pushinsky)

Pushinsky was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2009. His family said he had been unwell and "had used up all of his treatment options." He leaves behind his wife of 45 years, a son, a daughter and two grandsons.

'Local Stories: Photos of San Francisco' runs through Feb. 24 at Acción Latina’s Juan R. Fuentes Gallery (2958 24th Street). A memorial for Ted Pushinsky will be held closing night, Feb. 24, from 3–6pm.