One of the most exciting aspects of being a newspaper editor is recognizing a wave of activity that isn't connected to government mind control or onslaughts of corporate-sponsored and mass-marketed art. This kind of spontaneous mass energy is happening via photography in San Francisco right now. August is known as a slow month, but the city's galleries are alive with contemporary photos. Bill Daniel's latest look at the US landscape is opening at RayKo Photo Center, the Daniel-influenced vagabond spirit Polaroid Kidd has his first Bay Area show at Needles and Pens, Greg Halpern's moody views of Buffalo and Kelli Connell's double-minted prints are up at SF Camerawork, and at City Hall through the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery the work of 32 local photographers is on view.
Baptized in arguments regarding its viability as an art form, photography remains as contentious as it is expansive. Witness a veteran such as Duane Michals sharpening his claws on the megapopular likes of Cindy Sherman in last year's rant-monograph Foto Follies: How Photography Lost Its Virginity on the Way to the Bank (Thames and Hudson). We live in an era when the ready availability of portraiture seems to have made its definition even more reductive; via MySpace and more explicit sites, people use cameras to readily package themselves as products. Yet when black-and-white and color and digital and film collide with unpredictable results, photo portraiture can be as varied and lively as the work you'll find on these pages.
Thanks to fellow Guardian arts editor Kimberly Chun for suggesting, late in the selection process, a focus on portraiture. This decision necessarily narrowed the Bay Area photographers to choose from; there's a wave of garden- and eco-driven work being done by Bill Basquin and others, while Dusty Lombardo, R.A. McBride, and Jackson Patterson are discovering tremendous depth in interiors. Thanks also to Basquin, Daniel, Glen Helfand, Chuck Mobley, Katie Kurtz, and Dave and Ray Potes for their suggestions.
Twelve years ago I interviewed therapist and author Walt Odets because he was bringing much-needed humanity to discussions of the AIDS crisis; to find out that he's also a superb photographer whose subjects have included Jean Renoir and his wife, Dido, is a revelation. In distinctive ways, Vic Blue, Robert Gumpert, and Amanda Herman reveal what journalism usually ignores or renders shallow. The intimacy of Vala Cliffton's photos makes one ponder her presence within the scenes she depicts. Matthias Geiger shows a city you might not have noticed even when it's been in front of your face. Stan Banos has an eye for the many shades of gray within the multihued and the cuckoo. Job Piston is that rare Bay Area photographer whose work brandishes a sexual edge that isn't obvious or predictable. Jim Goldberg's urban work has been canonically influential since the publication of Rich and Poor (Random House, 1985) and Raised by Wolves (Scalo, 1995). Photography is just one aspect of Désirée Arlette Holman's hand-fashioned fantasy world, a place that looks like a wicked satire of our own.
If you'd like to see more about some of these artists, go to www.sfbg.com/blogs/pixel_vision. (Johnny Ray Huston)
NAME Stan Banos
TITLE The Marine
THE STORY "This photo was taken in San Francisco during Fleet Week in '04."
INSPIRATION "I've always had a vague obsession with time and place, and the camera is the best-suited instrument to record such transient moments (particularly when you can't draw).