Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Sedimentary Images For Future Use

We went to the Presidio this weekend and sort of wandered around blindly. The military cemetery was beautiful and humbling. You never quite know in a group of people how everyone is going to react to being in a cemetery. Some people might get awkward, other people rowdy and still others melancholy. Myself, I always feel stern but almost self-consciously so as if I'm trying to deliberately coerce the presence of all these graves into making me feel something so much different than what I normally feel. Cemeteries interest me though for many reasons. I like the idea, expressed in the singularly indispensable desert island book A Pattern Language, that graves should be not demarcated from common, living places but naturally integrated into them, not only as reminders but also because they are so much a part of life, even if we can't rationally grasp what they represent and indicate.

The Presidio will be an ongoing place of exploration and easily accessed too. Even though I live in the hinterlands of the city, in District 11 right before it becomes Daly City, I discovered that it isn't that far by bus from the noisy intersection near my house to the sea-swept colonial barracks and undulating green pastures of the Presidio. Along the way you pass through many conflicting parts of town. By the time you reach Geneva near my cross-streets, the only people boarding the bus are Asian-Americans. By the time you reach the Presidio, the bus is empty because everyone is driving, either in their BMW or their Audi.

It is amazing to me how many places I have yet to fully explore in San Francisco. Eventually it becomes easy never to leave your neighborhood, especially if you live in places like "The Mission" or "The Lower Haight", two neighborhoods I used to live in and quite rarely left. Parts of the Richmond, the Outer Sunset, for example, I have hardly touched by foot. Other pseudo-neighborhoods like Twin Peaks, Laguna Honda, Congo Elk I can never even remember where they are.

My own neighborhood, The Excelsior--a place with one of the most tarnished reputations in the City-- I'm committing to exploring and documenting more in depth here. This photo-journalistic project will be terse, topical and temporary: I don't want to live in the Excelsior forever.

Meanwhile, whether it goes back to my own adolescent fears of the YMCA public restrooms or something more diabolical like all those recurring haunted lavatory dreams I used to have that looked like a Tool video, I'm interested in bizarre, eerie or sinister bathrooms, I'm sad and embarrassed to say. Because I think visual cues can inform and deepen one's writing, I'm going to shoot bathrooms occasionally. Like this one below in Golden Gate Park.

I'm glad to start using a camera again in the service of exploration, documentation and understanding. I think the visual accompaniments will also inspire freshly-inspired writing jags too.


  1. Yeah, wandering with a camera lends wandering another dimension. A couple of years ago my college roommate and I roadtripped from Santa Barbara to upper extremities of California and back, snapping pictures the whole way. My roommate practically slept with his camera strap around his neck. What might have been a fairly boring, eventless trip became awesome because we felt as though we weren't just traveling, but making art.

    I've lived primarily in that northwestern part of San Francisco you say you're not too familiar with. May I recommend that you hike the Land's End trail sometime? Also, as you've probably found out recently, the Presidio is much larger than most people realize. Tons of stuff in there. One particularly creepy feature is the huge, abandoned, rotting former mental institution at the north end of 15th Ave in the Richmond. It just looms there, broken windows and all. Might make for sweet picture-taking.

  2. Your description of the "haunted lavatory" is spot on. I think we all have dreams involving bathrooms and early childhood understandings of private vs. public, but it's that shot of the half-shadowed sink that got to me. Wonderful image, great contrast and context.