2016, a photo retrospective
At the end of the year, for the past few years, I’ve chosen a selection of photos that I’ve taken over the course of the year to try and understand what just happened.
The 12 or so images I choose each year represent a combination of feelings about what’s personal for me mixed with what’s going on in the world.
I began getting paid (a little) for photo work as an event photographer and photojournalist about a decade ago. With the advent of the iPhone, I took to the streets, joining legions of fledgling street photographers redefining a long unsung art. For several years I’ve been trying to bring these two styles — using both digital and mobile photography — together into one voice. This year I added some film to the mix. What I got is “event meets street meets documentary”. And while that did not help me not make sense of the turbulence by any means, I’ve come to the understanding that you must find your balance in its midst.
This was not the year that I fully mastered my Ricoh GR, my now go-to digital. It was also not the first time I encountered this street preacher at the corner of 24th and Mission in San Francisco. But by holding this camera, with its 28-mm lens above my head, I was able to somehow cut out most everyone who usually sits on his periphery — waiting for buses, selling flowers and inflatable toys, sleeping between shelters — and show him alone, committed to his cause. Never deterred that everyone is not listening, because there is the chance that someone is.
Celebrity deaths were upon us like a plague. The outpouring of public grief — online and in makeshift shrines, like this one for Prince, outside the Apollo Theater in Harlem — was not unique to 2016, but clearly in more abundance. As they mounted over the course of the year, they seemed to be a harbinger, a death knell for things we took for granted.
I remained passionate about my San Francisco neighborhood — when I was home — or when I didn’t have a broken ankle (which sidelined me for two months). The Divisadero Corridor is a rapidly changing area. While new arrivals to the city (mostly tech workers) replace artists and long-time residents, the homeless population, pushed out of trendier, up-and-coming neighborhoods, take a seat on Divisadero.
On and off the Corridor, in San Francisco and beyond, there was a strange sense that the rules were changing and no one was telling anyone.
We were being manipulated and divided into two types of people — those who wave flags and those who don’t. But anyone who thinks things will be that simple going forward is going to be surprised.
I took a trip to Memphis, Tennessee and became a huge fan of everything #901 (that’s the area code). I spent hours at the Civil Rights Museum, stumbled on Sun Studios at dusk and ended up with two photo essays in my bag at the end of four days. Memphis has so much more to offer than Graceland and the Elvis myth, yet his presence pervades from downtown’s Beale St. to above a local pizza chain.
One of my Memphis photo essays was of the Orange Mound Youth Football League, which has been going strong for 35 years (to be published in 2017).
A second essay was of the West Memphis (in Arkansas, just across the Mississippi River) Gumbo Fest (pending publication). This was that festival’s 13th year. It’s held in a shopping mall parking lot.
A few months later I was working on another project, back in California at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. Using a film camera, I looked up instead of straight ahead into the crowd. I have always been a fan of the loner.
I call my next two photos “Freedom” and “Joy”.
I also tried to learn new things about making photos and employ best practices. One I’ve been caught out on many times is putting my cameras away when leaving an event or even a street shoot, only to turn the corner and see the best shot of the night just waiting there for me. After an exhausting shoot at San Francisco’s colorful Dia de los Muertos celebration, I found Ring Man and his friends a few blocks away.
I had planned a vacation to start a few days after the Presidential election. Like just about everyone, I expected a different outcome, one I assumed would keep the status quo going. Like just about everyone, I also had campaign fatigue and just wanted a break from the dialog and diatribe.
An escape from America to Argentina, was a wondrous experience and I took many photos in Buenos Aires and the Andes Mountain communities of Salta and Cachi. The trip was good for the soul — we have so much in America, too much in fact. And now a reality TV show star will guide us into a journey into the surreal. It may make for good art, but it leaves me feeling that more than Elvis has left the building.
If you enjoyed these words and photos, and want to see where 2017 takes us, please follow me on Instagram. To quote the late American writer and actor, Carrie Fisher, “Instant gratification takes too long.”