The shadow of a breakwater across a view of San Francisco Bay
I’ve had an obsession with the morning light coming across the San Francisco Bay ever since I started taking an early morning train up there and walking the waterfront, making photographs. The light varies, but it is almost always interesting — muted by fog, brilliantly bright when there is lighter haze, reflecting off the water when the skies are clearer. That latter was mostly the case on this morning, with only a few clouds left from a late-season rain storm that was clearing out.
I began photographing some pier not far from the South Beach Harbor, and as I walked out onto one of them I was intrigued by the overlapping patterns of breakwaters near the entrance to the harbor. As I looked to the right of that entrance the low breakwater cut the bright reflections of morning sun, placing an almost black line across the water parallel with the horizon line.
San Francisco, a city with a truly interesting past, is being gentrified at an alarming rate. The absurd and explosive increase in real estate values in the region is one indication. Another is the rate at which formerly down and out areas are being “redeveloped” and filled with very expensive real estate.
In few places is this more apparent than along the waterfront north and south of ATT Park, where the Giants play. The area right around the ball park took off some years back, and soon become one of the most expensive areas in the City. (No surprise, given the views of the bay!) More recently the run down areas south of the park have been the site of a huge amount of new construction — run down open areas are now full of new buildings. In a few spots some of the old things remain, including along sections of the Embarcadero where the “Hi Dive” still stands, along with the Java House and (not for long) Red’s Java House.
A small brick-paved urban square in dappled sunlight
I have my reasons for photographing in urban environments, even though that might seem like an odd passion for someone who photographs nature and landscapes. The same attractions of form and light and texture and juxtaposition are found in both places, though the urban environment encourages me to photograph in a different way. Here I don’t use a tripod, and I often make photographs very quickly and instinctively, since the subjects are so transitory and it is a matter of photograph it now or never. Even a seemingly static and quiet scene like this one only lasts a moment before people again walk through the scene. If nothing else, it is an intense exercise in seeing.
The area of where I made this photograph is, despite the appearance, a very busy and noise place along San Francisco’s Market Street, a place where there are throngs of people and where traffic noise can be oppressive. Yet at times the crowds part and the scene can be almost empty. And there is often quite beautiful light — it comes from all angles as it reflects back and forth among the glassy surfaces of tall buildings, and at street level in some places the light can fill the scene from almost all possible directions.
Winter geese fly in to a Central Valley wetlands pond at dawn
Near the end of May I revisited some photographs from the past year, including a set that I made on an annual New Year’s Day visit to California’s Central Valley. For several years now a group of friends, photographers, artists, and more have greeted the dawn of the new year by going together before dawn to celebrate the new year and the annual spectacle of the winter bird migration into the valley. So, during the first week when the temperatures here in California rose into the nineties, I enjoyed recalling a foggy morning when they sat near freezing.
We arrived a half hour before dawn to find patchy, thinning fog. We set out trying to determine, in the half-light, where the birds might be, and soon some were spotted settling in on a nearby pond. We headed that way, and I lined up a view across the pond, past quiet foreground birds and past a row of trees toward the eastern sky, which was gradually beginning to brighten. I made this photograph as another small group of birds was flying in to join those already on the pond
Benches and a balcony, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
There is a small thread in my photograph of the interior spaces of buildings that looks through gauzy, diffused curtains, blinds, and scrims toward the world outside. For example, I have several in his line that I made at the Getty Museum in Southern California, and some things photographed in museums in New York that go in a similar direction. I made this photograph at the new SFMOMA museum in San Francisco during a members’ preview before the official opening last week.
I love the newly expanded and remodeled museum. One writer commented on the way that the new facility opens to the City. (The former building, as good as it was, was mostly closed off from San Francisco, with few places where the interior space opened to views of the surrounding area.) Now the new “back side” of the museum opens straight out over and into the urban environment, and there is quite a bit to see there — and the design creates a stronger link to this city. In this photograph, which was initially “about” the lines of the buildings in the upper part of the frame, the shapes and tones of the two foreground benches are beginning to interest me more.
Urban landscape and an inflatable object, San Francisco
I recently read an interview with one artist whose work is on exhibit at SFMOMA, and he commented that despite what people may read into the work, it is largely all about the composition and juxtaposition of elements. If you want to read something into this, you are welcome to do so — and, in fact, there might be something there that I have not described or which I don’t see or admit to seeing.
But composition and juxtaposition did interest me. The rounded object at lower right doesn’t really fit the rest of the surrounding environment, or does it? That’s all I’m going to say…
The Flag Makers building behind a couple sitting on a bench at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Today (Saturday, May 14, 2016, as I write this) marks the re-opening of the newly renovated and expanded San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, or SFMOMA. As members we got an early look about a week ago, and we spent the better part of a day exploring the place. We like it! A lot. There are quite a few things I could write about — the architecture, the expanded space inside, the collections, the photographs — but all I’ll write for now is that I agree with one architecture critic who pointed out that where the old museum felt walled off from San Francisco the new version connects directly with the surrounding neighborhood, with many windows and open balconies providing plenty of opportunities to see and interact the urban San Francisco landscape. You could have a bit of fun thinking carefully about all of the lines and angles in this scene and what might explain them…
These photographs of SFMOMA are also some of the first I’ve made using a new camera from Fujifilm, the X-Pro2, about which I’ll likely have a lot more to say in the future. It is a rangefinder-style interchangeable lens mirrorless body with a hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder system that mostly succeeds in providing a sort of best of both worlds design. I like it for this kind of photography because the camera not only produced excellent image quality (with its 24MP sensor and fine Fujifilm lenses), but it is also small and fairly unobtrusive.