Optic nerve

The Photography Issue: family albums, prom portraits, street shots, spy satellites -- a portfolio of the exceptional local scene


This is the second year that the Guardian has devoted an issue to local photographers. I'll wait until it happens a third time before deeming the project an annual endeavor. It's easy to believe in that possibility, because the range of photography in the Bay Area right now is exceptional. This great state of affairs is partly due to spaces and organizations such as SF Camerawork, RayKo Photo Center, and PhotoAlliance. It's also due to more do-it-yourself street-level groups such as Hamburger Eyes and one of this issue's 10 contributors, Cutter Photozine.

Last year's photography issue focused on portraiture, but this year I've opted for a survey approach that allows for spontaneous connections. Jessica Rosen and Sean McFarland both utilize collage, but with vastly different results. Keba Konte's collage aesthetic adds objects to imagery and links history to autobiography. Investigative work leads to political or societal exposure within Trevor Paglen's and David Maisel's photography. Adrianne Fernandez and Bayeté Ross-Smith focus on youth as they bring new twists to traditions such as the family album and the prom portrait. Dustin Aksland's portraiture also includes teenagers, sometimes plopped onto or stopped within American landscapes, while Mimi Plumb likens rural landscapes to the backs of horses.

August may be when summer winds down and a portion of SF prepares to camp elsewhere, but it's an important time for local photography. This issue coincides with PhotoAlliance's and the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery's annual exhibition of local photographers. Two of the 10 artists on the following pages are part of that show. American photography also will be playing a major role at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art next year, when that space presents an exhibition devoted to Robert Frank and his classic monograph The Americans (Steidl).

In honor of an old adage or clichéd truth, there aren't a lot of words next to the pictures that follow. But the text does include Web site information. In most cases, these photographers' sites function as another gallery of sorts, one that lacks the tactile nature and dimensions of an actual photograph but at least suggests the variety of a body of work to date. Scope them out, and scope out Pixel Vision, the Guardian's arts and culture blog, for interviews and other photography-related pieces this week. Last, before you look, some thanks are due to Glen Helfand, Chuck Mobley, and Mirissa Neff for their help in the selection process, and to Kat Renz for a last-minute idea.

Also in this issue:

>>Killer shots from the bowels of rock

>>Before stalkerazzi, there was Gary Lee Boas

>>Q&A with Heather Renee Russ of Cutter Photozine

>>Q&A with Jessica Rosen

>>Molly Decoudreaux looks beneath local nightlife

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