Mission and Third, San Francisco

I used to do street photography with a 4x5 view camera. Yes, really — bellows, light hood, heavy tripod and all, a bit like Ansel Adams, except with a lot less talent. Not street photography in the sense of waving your camera in the face of snarling or indifferent people on the street, of course, but in the sense of taking photos on the street and of the street.

I tend to avoid taking pix of San Francisco because everyone takes photos there (plus I’m a long-term East Bay kind of person who mostly couldn’t care less about SF), but this is one of the few exceptions I made, because, well, I really liked this beautiful exposed wall. It was on an old semi-derelict building on Mission near Third in San Francisco; I used to see it nearly every day on my way down Mission.

So early one Sunday morning sometime (I think) in the late 1990’s or early 2000's I set up my 4x5 on Mission Street a little north of Third, and spent a bunch of minutes taking a couple of black-and-white film negs while people and traffic wandered around me. It’s one of my favourite rushed get-in / get-out street view camera shots from those days (how do you do rushed street shots with a view camera? Very slowly…). The above image is poorly scanned from the original 4x5 negative, so it's got a few imperfections.

The photo’s obviously all about the textures, shapes, and lightplay on that wall, and the way it stands out sort of naked and unassuming, but it was also about trying to document a rapidly-changing street view as SFMOMA opened around the corner and the whole SOMA thing gained momentum. Those changes? Click here for a full-size Google street view of the same scene twenty-something years later in 2021: the building itself has been renovated almost beyond recognition, the wall’s hidden again, and the vacant blocks aren’t quite as vacant any more….

This image appears in all sorts of different ways in some of my other manipulated images — it’s a great foil for some of my body shots. But it stands alone nicely for me, and still hangs on my walls printed in beautiful black and white.

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