I photographed these well-worn and utilitarian merchandise racks on a walk down a Chinatown side street last summer. It almost appeared that they had been demoted from active use to side-street storage, and that perhaps they were just waiting to be dragged away, or possibly they were being kept around long enough that they could still be pressed into service if needed.
I like trying to read (or read into) the possible history of artifacts like these. For example, they give every indication of being “home-made” by folks who don’t follow construction “rules,” but who have probably built such things before. The colors are wild, between the fluorescent green and the yellow, red, and blue of graffiti. I love the angle on the lower front of the rack at the left — all I can figure is that it must have been designed to match the slope of the particular San Francisco street where it was once used.
Shoppers and tourists walk past Chinatown shops at night, San Francisco
Allow me to continue to indulge my (relatively) new obsession with handheld night street photography! This is yet another photograph made after dark in San Francisco, in a popular tourist area full of people, shops, and plenty of wildly colorful artificial light. This might look a bit like just a photograph of a crowd, but when I look closer I’m fascinated by the variety of faces and activities and ways of engaging that I see.
It was only perhaps a couple of years ago that I discovered that I can use small handheld mirrorless camera set to high ISO to photograph in the nighttime city environment. In the past this was sometimes marginally possible in very well-lit areas, but most such photography required a tripod and its attendant disruption of the scene — people behave very differently when they see a big camera on a tripod. But now it is quite possible to roam with a very small camera and produce viable photographs that can even be printed rather large.
Zoltar waits for his mark on a San Francisco sidewalk
Zoltar, in all of his flamboyant glory, waits in a sidewalk booth to give fortunes to passers-by. Despite his ultra-colorful appearance, not a single person stopped to speak with him during my visit.
I did not realize that Zoltar is actually a “thing.” Yes, you can look up “Zoltar Speaks” on the Internet and read all about him. (He comes in standard, economy, and deluxe models.) I remain perplexed about what he may have to do with the cultural setting of San Francisco’s Chinatown district.
Crowds of people walking past shops along Grant Avenue on a summer evening, San Francisco
To me, this photograph has a feeling of San Francisco. Yes, it is in a tourist location, but the crowded sidewalk, the diverse group of people, the somewhat old and (lovingly) worn buildings and sidewalk, the narrow street, the clutter… all contribute to the charm of The City.
There are a lot of small things in this complex photograph that I like. The center, though it is subtle, may be the man facing the camera and looking into the light of the store. But there is also the family with two children, one clutching dad’s hand and the other, barely visible, looking into that light. There’s more, but I’ll leave it to viewers to look.
People assemble in summer twilight at the corner of Clay and Grant Streets, San Francisco
This was a beautiful San Francisco afternoon and evening. I rendezvoused with some photographer friends in the late afternoon, and after a group dinner we headed out onto the San Francisco streets eventually winding our way into the Chinatown area around dusk. Fog was coming in, turning the ambient light a beautiful blue color, and street and business lights were coming on and producing contrasting warmer toned light.
In these situations photography is a combination of keeping my eyes open and responding intuitively and of watching for potential compositions and subjects and then waiting for the right characters to populate the scene. Certain places are more likely prospects: narrow streets with electrical light coming from both sides, storefronts, and corners. At the latter people often have to stop and wait for traffic to clear or to figure out where to go next, and they sometimes assemble into interesting compositions and stay there for more than an instant. Here, if I recall correctly, my first attraction to the scene was towards the glowing light in this corner market. I quickly noticed the line of people spread across the scene from left to right, and for an instant the man standing in light at the center of the frame looked up and somewhat toward the camera, and against a backdrop of mostly hidden faces his appearance jumped out at me.
I think my landscape photographer instincts went to work on this photograph, despite its thoroughly urban subject. But imagine a valley floor, a vertical granite cliff, peaks beyond, and a cloud floating past and I think you might see the analogy. But this is a distinctly San Francisco street/architecture photograph.
I was on foot in The City, spending the better part of a day wandering around in an area bounded by the Embarcadero and the Bay, Market street more or less, and Fourth Street. I was headed south on a less crowded street, traveling more or less toward the newly remodeled SFMOMA (museum of modern art). I had been looking a the tall building on the right and the bit of the new portion of the museum poking out to its left when the solitary cloud appeared from behind the building and began to move from right to left. Having very little time to contemplate, I framed up this vertical composition and made the photograph “street” style, using the prime lens already on the camera and simply shooting handheld
A purple mask, eh? You may need to look closely at this small web version of the photograph, but if you do you may see that one of the people in the scene is carrying a furry purple mask. Don’t ask. I didn’t.
I’ll keep the commentary on this one to a minimum since I have already written a few times about the circumstances of such photographs. I made it on a summer afternoon and night walk through sections of downtown San Francisco. Here I was wandering slowly along Grant, the main tourist street of the city’s Chinatown district. By this time at night the crowds had diminished quite a bit, but most shops were still open. With fewer people on the street, there were better opportunities to find compositions that were less cluttered.