I have a series of photographs, a series that contains only a few images, that I call “imaginary landscapes” — photographs that do not attempt to be objectively real depictions (not that photographs can truly succeed at such a thing) but instead go for what I might term a subjective reality. This photograph is perhaps the urban equivalent to those. An “urban imaginary landscape” perhaps?
The source image came from a recent visit to San Francisco, when I was in a location where I could look directly toward the outer shells of a number of very tall buildings. Because the weather was overcast, the light was muted and it made its way into shadowed areas that might otherwise be very dark. This produced a source image that allowed me a great deal of leeway for interpretation in post.
Reflections and shaded interior beyond a barred window, San Francisco
Walking along the waterfront near the South Beach Harbor I noticed a walkway going out to the end of a pier than I had not noticed before. This time a gate was open, so I walked out onto the pier and passed many small temporary (or so they seemed) businesses and shops that were set up behind the sliding metal doors, now open for the day. My goal was the end of the pier, where I figured I might be a good, clear view straight into the morning light coming across the bay or possibly back across the boats tied up in the harbor.
Passing one small metal-sided building, I noticed the odd combination of objects — a bird cage behind a sort of “human cage” of the barred windows. The right window provided a visual and subjective contrast with these objects, since it reflected the open blue sky and the upper portions of the masts of the nearby sailboats.
A complex juxtaposition of street elements, San Francisco
I’m going to have a little fun with you today with this photograph. It might be a bit of a mystery and it contains one or more illusions, and more than one world. I’ll let you ponder that.
I made the photograph on one of my photography walks in San Francisco, which usually are dominated by street photography, some architecture, and even a bit of urban and near-urban landscape, all shot handheld while on the move. The area where I made this photograph is a bustling part of newly developing San Francisco, with lots of traffic (I waited for a break), lots of expensive new housing, and sometimes a lot of people.
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.
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…