San Francisco is a machine. There is something to admire about the city for it's chaotic cluttered streets full of shit. I mean that figuratively and literally. It is not New York by a long shot, it's San Francisco. Apples and oranges. I am grateful to have friends from Portland that live in The Mission, close to Bernal Heights. Essentially they live right outside the projects. Allow me to elaborate on how close to the projects: One evening on my way "home" from a busy day out in the city, I get a text from my friend back at the house saying "there was just drive by in front of the house." Later when I met up with him for a drink he goes on to describe how he could hear the victim screaming in pain while he answered questions for the police. The shooting was actually across the street from his house, not directly in front as he had mentioned in the text message. He lives across the street from a PARK. Minutes before the shooting his girlfriend, also a very good friend of mine, had just got into her car. Her car was parked where the man had been shot. Timing is everything. The very next day as I walked out the door to go to Philz Coffee there was a homeless man laying in that very same spot sleeping. No boxes or pads. Simply a man sleeping on his side, snoring, using his hand as a pillow. It was 11am. Despite those series of events the neighborhood and house they live in is actually really nice. There is good and bad in close proximity, immersed with each other in this city.
The two friends I stayed with are one of the few couples in my life that I truly believe in. I admire them for what they have done. A little over a year ago they were at a crossroads in life. They both wanted change from the comfort of living in Portland and made the big decision to move in together. They had many different options on where to move but ultimately decided on San Fran. With what little money they had saved, they left Portland to make something of themselves together. It reminds me of old love. The kind of story grandparents would tell their grandchildren. The story of how they came to this country with only a few dollars in their pocket to have a better life and make something of themselves. The quest for a piece of the "American Dream." I value this kind of love, it is rare and it is powerful. They are both doing very well in the city and advancing themselves within their careers at a very fast pace. Possibly too fast. I myself felt the pressures of the city even though I was only there for a short amount of time.
The reason I had traveled to San Francisco was to do a photography gig that I had got through an old friend, this one being from Los Angeles. He works for a start up that is becoming really successful. The job was to set up a photo booth for their company mixer and to take candid shots during the event. Piece of cake. Only... I have never done this type of production before. The event was on a Tuesday, I arrived on Monday. A day is all I had to run around the city gathering all the necessary knowledge and tools I needed to make this photo booth happen. Armed with my iPhone and my friend's fixed gear, I biked all over town to every photo related proprietorship. If at any moment I felt that the stress of this job was getting to me, there was always the terrifying fact that I was riding a fixed gear with no brakes around an overpopulated city of steep hills where people could care less about a pedestrian riding a bike as they speed through red lights. This kept me in the present moment. I felt alive.
Although I was alone on my journey to make this photo gig happen, there was one particular stop I had made that reminded me of how connected my actions are to the world. I had stumbled upon a photo booth company through yelp that, when I arrived, seemed very sketchy. There wasn't a sign in front of the door, only the address. I peaked my head in the door and there was a man and women drawing on drafting tables. The man aggressively asked if there was anything he could help me with. I told him I was simply looking for the photo booth company. He lightened up and said "Oh yeah! You want John... they are out in the back. You can go around... better yet, go ahead and cut through here." He guides me through their workshop. As I'm walking between the maze of drafting tables I notice there are giant pencil drawings on large sheets of paper covering the entire studio. The pictures were drawn in such fine detail. "You want to go down, make a right, then a left and then another right. By then, you should seem them back there." I'm thinking to myself "this is how you are going to die Matt... in the back of some random warehouse in The Mission." After my last right turn I see the light shinning through the back door loading dock. Awkwardly watching me approach are a group of people speaking French to each other. They are standing beside a large truck. I boldly walk over to them and ask for John. John wasn't there. Turns out, I had stumbled upon JR, a french artist, who was putting the final touches on his west coast photo booth truck for his Inside Out Project.
It was only a few weeks prior that I had saw a documentary based on his work. Before that, I had no idea who the man was. He is an artist that takes very interesting portraits of people, usually of people in neighborhoods that need attention. These photos are then printed on very large sheets of paper and then plastered onto a city wall. A Banksy in his own right. One of the last things I remember from the documentary was a discussion he had with his friend. He told him that he wanted to take his photo project worldwide. His friend asked him skeptically, "how are you going to do that?" He replied, "I don't know." And now, here I was standing in front of his solution that was about to embark on it's maiden voyage all over the west coast. I felt a part of art history. I felt like I should be doing something on such a scale...
My photo gig ended up going very well, but was a true testament to what I really love doing in life. Everyone had a great time, LOVED the photos and had many take home photos to remember a night that they would not of otherwise. I decided to stay in town for another week to see what it would be like to live in San Francisco. Coincidentally, Sandbox Studio was having a going away event for a long time employee. After some convincing from Jen Siska, a photographer I look up to and admire, I showed up with a few friends. It was a shit show. Everyone was super blasted. I did have the opportunity to talk with Charlie, one of the founders, about my recent transition from a full time employee to a freelancer at Sandbox. It was great to hear what he had to say. He supports my decision. There was a mutual understanding as a photographer that at some point you have to start pushing yourself further.
I left on a Friday, there was somebody I wanted to see in Santa Cruz before I continued onto Los Angeles. Like it always has been, San Francisco was a strange dream full of many coincidences. Possibly because every time I am there it is only for a short amount of time. Where everything happens so fast that reality doesn't have time to settle in. This trip I danced on that fine line between dream and reality. The truth is that my two close friends are at yet another crossroads, they are moving into their own places. I wish they hadn't but the decision had already been made. I spoke to them both alone and they feel similar. They are working so much that when they come home the only time they have is with each other. There is no time to for them to be alone and it is clawing away at their selfish ambitions. Suffocating at who they are individually. I could see this happening months ago when they started to tell me how well they were doing at their jobs, how (over)committed they were. It's not their fault, San Francisco has got a hold of them. It's a machine...
On one of my rides through the city I saw a very large sign on the front of a sectioned off building. It made me think of Pink Floyd's song "Welcome to the Machine." The sign was located next to a party store that had balloons in front of it. I moved the balloons in front of the sign as a nice happy sarcastic touch to my photo. I didn't have my Nikon so I used my iPhone and posted it to instagram.