A summer day without fog in San Francisco is a rarity, so after I applied some sun block, I grabbed my camera and headed for one of the city’s most iconic landmarks to photograph people from out of town. Tourists flock to Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39 because there are unobstructed views of infamous Alcatraz Island, a plethora of outdoor cafes, and kitschy souvenier shops. It also serves as the smelly second home of barking sea lions.
As a local resident, I avoid Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39 unless a hungry guest craves fish as it comes off the boat or needs to buy memorabilia for the grandkids. But on this sunny day I was at Pier 39 to meet a friend to show him how to take pictures of strangers and have them begging for more.
I arrived an hour before our meeting time, which gave me an opportunity to scout out various vantage points and check angles of the sun to avoid shadows and other pitfalls of taking mid-day photos. I walked upstairs to give the balcony a look-see, and that’s where I saw this alluring couple gazing out at historic Alcatraz Island.
Oh My! These guys are perfect to photograph, I thought, as I hurried over to introduce myself.
“Hey you two, hi there, sorry to interrupt your bliss,” I said, “but you guys are the most interesting people I’ve seen at Fisherman’s Wharf. Your tattoos are awesome and beautifully exotic.”
People who pierce themselves with industrial hardware and cover their bodies with tattoos want to be noticed and admired. That’s why most wear revealing clothes, like tank tops and see-through jerseys.
At the MONA museum in Hobart, Tasmania there is a “live” exhibit of a tattooed man who sits motionless for hours every day as a human canvas for people to look at. And yes, this is the honest-to-God’s truth. His tattooed skin was sold to a German art collector, so that when he dies, his skin will be framed to be part of this man’s personal art collection.
My introduction to the couple was genuine and said with a warm smile. These highly decorative people were truly awesome and exotic, especially to folks who admire creative body art and unusual hardware.
“My name is Pam, and I’m a local photographer. My specialty is taking pictures of people who are unique and beautiful. But first, how are you enjoying San Francisco?”
Their answer to my simple question opened the door to further questions and more answers, which became a nice conversation. Words that convey honesty and warmth are essential in helping people relax before switching on the camera. This incredible photo opportunity could go awry if I didn’t make a personal connection first and establish their trust.
“I’m a tattoo artist from the mid-west,” he said. “This is Jen. My name’s Joe. We’re checking out Cali and Frisco. Yeah! Hey. No problem. Take our pitchers.” (Locals cringe when visitors say “Frisco” and “Cali.”)
“I’m meeting a friend soon,” I said, “ but he’s not here yet, so let’s talk more and I’ll take pictures.”
Joe explained his artistic experience, why he moved into body art, and his creative techniques. As he talked, I thought about moving us to a better location, but I didn’t want to disturb our connection or reduce the quality of their openness. Thankfully, Joe suggested we walk downstairs because “maybe we’d find a better place to take pitures.”
“Just tell us what to do. Should we stand or sit?”
The universe is providing, I thought to myself. The structural tension is building.
They sat on a bench and naturally posed. I took pictures from different perspectives and angles. Watching me, a 75 year old, get down on my haunches for an improved shot couldn’t have been pretty. (Note to self: stretch more and next time bring knee pads).
“Hey, Pam, you live here, right? You know where we can buy weed?”
Pausing briefly, I responded, “Yeah, you got a smart phone? There’s an app that gives locations for weed shops around the city. You know it’s legal here right?”
“Yeah, good. Thanks, and here’s my number. Send us those pitchers some time, ok?”