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Honoring Dave Schubert, San Francisco’s Wildest Street Photographer

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A man with a strong jawline, brown eyes and docile expression stares into the camera.
Dave Schubert during his formative years studying at SFAI. 'He was always up for anything and had the best smile and smirk,' says friend Lindsay Mapes. 'He captured the most insanely real and raw moments in his images.' (Lindsay Mapes)

On Friday morning, I got word that my favorite San Francisco photographer Dave Schubert had died suddenly. The long-time Mission District resident was discovered on Thursday, Jan. 5 by concerned friends at the 26th Street home Schubert lived in for two decades.

Schubert’s work had been a minor obsession of mine ever since 2005, when I first saw one of his photographs at a 111 Minna show. The photo in question — a chaotic 16th Street brawl involving seven people and a bicycle — has hung in my home ever since. It offers a perfect snapshot of Mission District nightlife as I knew it back then: a grimy, hedonistic community of bartenders, graffiti writers, skaters, punks and bike messengers.

A cluster of seven people push and pull each other in a street fight. A woman lies on the ground underneath it all, a bicycle laying on the ground in front of her.
Dave Schubert captured this fight outside Delirium on 16th Street in 2003. (Dave Schubert)

This underworld of smart-ass scrappers, non-stop taggers and street-fighting drunkards was a large part of why I fell in love with San Francisco in the first place. And Schubert documented all of it. Back then, in the late ’90s and early 2000s, it felt like there were no consequences for any amount of ill-advised behavior. If there was trouble? Well, the story you told the next day was just that much better. In the 18 years since I first found Schubert’s work, no one has captured that chaos better than he did.

Schubert and I lived only a few blocks from each other in the Mission, so back in September 2022, I invited him out to lunch to talk about his work. He met me in the back of Old Jerusalem on Mission Street. In person, Schubert was sweet, polite, humble, and just a little wild-eyed. He told me right off the bat that he’d hit his head a lot over the years and showed me photos of him swollen and bleeding to prove it. “Bloody head shots,” he called them. He had a whole collection.

A young man with blood on his forehead and cheek, with a large lump forming on the side of his face, looks blankly at the camera.
One of Schubert’s self-portraits, this one documenting the aftermath of a bicycle accident. (Dave Schubert)

But Schubert was also incredibly smart; a scholar about the history of photography and an easy conversationalist. We talked for longer than I expected that day about a wide array of topics. We talked about Schubert’s earliest photography inspirations: Bob Richardson, Richard Avedon and Robert Frank. We talked about the history of the Mission. We talked about dead friends, in particular his best friend Dash Snow, who Schubert memorialized with a fanzine of photos after Snow’s death in 2009.


Schubert moved to the city in 1995 after being awarded a scholarship to study photography at the San Francisco Art Institute. Once he arrived, Schubert immersed himself in the Bay’s thriving skateboarding and graffiti scene. Back on the East Coast, he’d been a prolific skate videographer, primarily in Washington, D.C. On that September day, we talked about his more recent work for GX1000, his friend’s skate company.

A man wearing blue jeans, flannel shirt and a chicken head mask perches on top of a graffitied bathroom stall, money falling from his hands.
Photo taken at The Cock, a New York City gay bar. (Dave Schubert)

Best of all, we talked about the trouble he’d found himself in while taking photos of strangers doing illegal things — a habit Schubert had that reflected his audacious approach to his craft. He told me of one incident when a group of sex workers attacked him for taking a photo of them smoking crack in the Tenderloin. Mid-attack, Schubert told me, one of them began biting his finger. Hard.

“I had just watched a nature film with sharks that week though,” Schubert casually told me. “And it said if you’re attacked by a reef shark, don’t pull your hand out of its mouth because your flesh will tear. Instead, hit it in the throat so it will release you. So that’s what I did. That’s how I got the prostitute off my finger.”

Talking to Schubert, these kinds of stories weren’t unusual. They were simply how he lived his life: on the edge, always adjacent to trouble, illuminating the darkest sides of city living with his camera, so that the rest of the world might see it too.

A man stands casually wearing black clothing and an San Francisco 49ers baseball cap, while a woman casually tags a Muni bus in San Francisco. The bus doors are still open.
Every day acts of vandalism in SF, as captured by Dave Schubert. (Dave Schubert)

“He had a drive and passion for his work that is hard to find these days,” says Lindsay Mape, who first befriended Schubert in 1995. “I was studying painting at SFAI and he would sneak in with me and use the dark rooms all day long to print his film, while I painted in the studios downstairs. Then we would leave and go hang in the Mission or the TL all night, finding trouble, hanging with friends, laughing and chilling with my dog.

“He didn’t have a nasty bone in his body,” she remembers. “Genuinely the sweetest soul.”

Noah Lang of the San Francisco gallery Electric Works, who first befriended Schubert in 1999, has similar memories of the photographer. “Even in his darkest times, he never had any anger,” Lang says. “He was an unstoppable force of positivity. He was very generous. He was interested in sharing everything that he had. He would have 17-year-old skaters email him saying they liked his work and he would just send them [a print]. He was not looking for fame or fortune ever. He just wanted enough money to live and make his books and that was pretty much it.

“I feel like street photographers are born noticers,” Lang continues. “They notice all the things that we see but don’t find remarkable, and then they synthesize it. Dave was a really great noticer and synthesizer of the coral reef around him. He knew everything about it. He could see it all and he would make a photo of it and turn normalcy into poetry in 1/60 of a second.”

A very young Stevie Williams (skateboarder) poses between friends at Pulaski Park in Washington, D.C., 1993. (Dave Schubert)

Tributes poured in for Schubert over the weekend as news of his untimely death spread.

Artist Steve Powers wrote on Instagram: “I don’t know a better photographer that shot both skateboarding and graffiti as well as Dave did, but, as he would say about bragging, ‘Don’t tell it, show it’ … Dave Schubert didn’t take pictures, he took the time to love and to show the love.”

Evan Pricco of Juxtapoz wrote: “It feels as if an era of San Francisco has passed with the news of the death of photographer, Dave Schubert. Many of my earliest memories of art, of underground culture, of life being fucking lived, was through the lens and eye of Dave Schubert. He was telling me the story of my home city without me even being conscious of it.”

Noah Lang and friends have set up a fundraising campaign to save and preserve Dave Schubert’s photographic archive. Details can be found on their GoFundMe page.


An exhibit of Schubert’s photography will be on display at San Francisco’s Et Al. Etc. Gallery (2831 Mission Street) between July 29 and Aug. 18, 2023.

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