Repainted and patched green door in the brick wall of an old San Francisco building
On this mid-August morning I got up early, took the bus to the train and the train to San Francisco, then walked right up into the downtown core of the City. The walk began with among train commuters heading up toward Market Street, past construction zones, freeway interchanges, and lots of traffic. Once at Market Street I turned toward the Bay and walked slowly, stopping frequently to watch and photograph. At the end of Market I turned south and began my walk back to the train station along the Embarcadero.
Eventually I decided to leave the Embarcadero and follow smaller streets to cross back to the Caltrain station. Like so many parts of San Francisco today, this is an area in transition. There are still some gritty old buildings, but things are rapidly evolving in a much more upscale and expensive direction — and for now the gritty and the modern live side by side. But not for long. Given the price of real estate in this area, funky old buildings like the one with this doorway do not have much of a future. I imagine that almost all of them will be knocked down for more condos and townhouses, and those that remain will be cleaned up and gentrified in ways that retain only the stylish chic quality. Two things (at least) caught my attention about this doorway, at least sufficiently to make me stop for a minute and make a few exposures. First is the stark contrast between the pinkish color of the painted bricks and greens of the doorway. Second is the sum effect of paint over graffiti and then painting it over again, which often produces interesting cubist patterns on San Francisco architecture in places like this.
Warning sign on a doorway to an interior space, Chinatown, San Francisco
When doing street photography I tend to “switch modes” as I photograph — one moment I might focus on people as individuals or in groups, and then my attention may shift to the “urban landscape,” the shapes and angles of the buildings and roads and sidewalks and more. At night there is always one more element, the unusual effects of artificial light on the scene. The light can be wildly diverse: Greenish from fluorescent lamps, yellow from sodium vapor, warm and saturated from tungsten, almost like daylight though perhaps cooler from LEDs, and occasionally the colors of dusk or the moon.
LED lighting, while wonderfully efficient, is not so wonderful for night photography. Since it mirrors the color balance of daylight so closely it takes away all of those color shadings. Some times it almost makes a night photograph look like day! I made this photograph shortly after I met up with a group of other photographers to walk through this section of San Francisco. At first I was focused in small things — windows, doorways, colorful business signs. As we descended one side street we passed this somewhat nondescript building, but in the nighttime light the interior glowed with an oddly colored light.
Exterior surface of a Chicago building, including distorted window reflections
This is another small bit of Chicago urban landscape, this time a detail of a downtown building that contrasts the very regular and geometric shapes of textures of the vertical and horizontal features against the wildly random and distorted patterns in the windows.
This is another of my architectural detail photographs from our summer 2014 visit to Chicago. We decided to cross the continent the old-fashioned, slow way — we took the train from the San Francisco Bay Area to New York City. The first leg was on the venerable California Zephyr to Chicago, and we decided to take a few extra days in Chicago before boarding the Lakeshore Limited (also apparently known as the Late Shore Limited…) to Manhattan. We stayed right in downtown Chicago, just a few blocks from Millennium Park, so there was plenty to see and do. One morning we took the architectural tour up the river, something that I had not done before.
I enjoy Chicago. Part of it appeals to my long-ago midwestern roots, I think. But it is also a cosmopolitan big city with a quality all its own. While the buildings are as huge as those of any other big city, the urban center sprawls in a way that is quite different from, say, New York City or from our familiar San Francisco. It seems like views of the architecture are a bit more opened and varied, and much more light seems to get down to street level. I’ve long been fascinated by close-in photographs of building details, especially when they include windows like these. When I look at them initially I see a big, sturdy building. But looking more closely I see that most of what I’m looking at is not-the-building, but instead is a series of reflections and reflections of reflections in the windows, and the whole structure starts to take on a more insubstantial quality.
Worn and frequently painted front walls of urban San Francisco buildings
I have a few more in this urban/street photography set from a recent day spent photographing in San Francisco. I took the train to The City, headed north along the waterfront, then cut inland at Market Street before wandering up past Chinatown (avoiding Grant) and through North Beach before heading back to where I started. There is a lot to see on such a walk on a weekday in San Francisco!
Usually when I pass through the Chinatown area I forego the walk up touristy Grant Street, and instead cut across (and uphill!) to take smaller streets and to miss a lot of the usual stuff. There are lots of little nooks and crannies here, and the buildings offer diverse and sometimes wild visual treats. These buildings, which certainly look run down from the outside, present an incredible surface of textures and colors, much of which probably evolved by accident as people painted out the ubiquitous graffiti.
An electric wire and a rusty lamp attached to a weathered wall
Here is another “poking around in alleys” photograph from San Francisco. I have been walking along this section of the Embarcadero with a camera for a number of years now. The San Francisco waterfront has always been a place of change, but these days things seem to be accelerating. Real estate in The City is becoming increasingly precious and increasingly costly, and there is a continuous transition from inexpensive work, living, and warehouse space to much more expensive and trendy uses, especially in waterfront and other special locations. The changes are closing in on the Embarcadero from both ends and even the middle — from the tourist areas of Pier 39 through the Ferry Building to the bustling area around AT&T Park and on into China Basin.
More and more of the oddball little forgotten places are discovered and eventually transformed. This little alley leads to a set of abandoned railroad tracks leading out onto one of the old piers. Some kind of business seems to have moved in, but the rough walls, worn paint, and functional construction remain. This bit of wood siding, with a rusty lamp and a funky bit of exterior wiring is subtly colored with fading paint, rust and wear from the foggy environment, and bit of blue coloration from being in shade.
A wooden later climbs a concrete wall in a San Francisco alley
This is a photograph from one of my early morning forays into downtown San Francisco, trips that tend to become a bit more common this time of year. The first of “the season” was near the end of May. I started at the Caltrain Station, worked my way mostly along the Embarcadero to the Ferry Building area, and then took a winding route off into the City.
I tend to walk slowly while working on these projects — stopping to look, to wait, and to poke my camera into odd little corners. Here I found the gate to a small alley open, and after watching a couple of people walk through on their way to a business in the back I followed. Just inside the gate was an old textured concrete wall with this wooden ladder leading up along its face, and the combination of the textured concrete, the form of the ladder, and the perspective convergence created an interesting abstraction.