For its 35th anniversary, SF Camerawork is telling the story of San Francisco through the eyes of more than thirty artists. An Autobiography of the San Francisco Bay Area is a two-part show. Part One: San Francisco Plays Itself, which opened September 10, 2009 is a venn diagram of overlapping themes: it begins with photographs of places, switches to portraits, then moves on to people in places. The photographs range from the panoramic to the microcosmic. Shi Guorui took his wall-sized photo of the San Francisco skyline with a pinhole camera aimed from Alcatraz. It's a familiar view of the city, but it looks alien, unreal. Ari Marcopoulos created grainy close-ups of his sons' scars, blown up and photocopied to be larger than life. Both capture Bay Area moments.
Photo: Shi Guorui
SF Camerawork doesn't own a permanent collection, so curator Chuck Mobley had to hunt down photographers and photographs that let the Bay Area speak for itself. Larry Sultan's decadent portrait of San Francisco socialite Denise Hale is just around the corner from Jona Frank's series of working people in uniforms. Michael Rauner's illuminated architectural photographs of spiritual places in the Bay Area follows Alex Fradkin's photos of decrepit World War I and II bunkers along the coast.
Photo: Larry Sultan
Even non-portraits feel personal. Mobley invited the artists to contribute their own thoughts or experiences to the show. That decision adds another autobiographical element; we read about the photographers' processes or their intentions, their initial feelings about their work, and how those feelings have changed. Richard Misrach reflects on his initial disappointment with the photographic essay of Telegraph Avenue he created as a young man. "Instead of being an effective political statement," he writes on the plaque, "I felt like I ended up with a coffee table book...Thirty-five years later, I find that the work in fact effectively captures a historical moment. So, perhaps I was too hard on myself back then." Michael Jang is frank about his photographs, also taken when he was younger. "In retrospect, I see these images as a humorous look into the life of an Asian family trying to assimilate into the American mainstream of the 1970s."
Photo: Michael Jang
SF Camerwork's show is about more than catching any one historical moment. It's a collection of moments and views, landscapes and opinions, as diverse and contradictory, sometimes noisy and sometimes quiet, as the vibrant unpredictable city itself.
Part Two: The Future Lasts a Long Time opens early next year. It will give artists a chance to revisit and revise their own work, and to continue ongoing projects.
An Autobiography of the Bay Area Part One: San Francisco Plays Itself runs through October 31, 2009 at SF Camerawork in San Francisco. For more information, visit sfcamerawork.org.