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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Backtrack: a story of meetings

I'm going back to last Free Friday, to a group of photos I took. A late afternoon, in the Tenderloin, downtown.

It's both easy and hard at the end of the day -- easy in that I just lose myself in my photos and it's like I never went to the office (I just forget everything, even what time it is), and hard, in that I'm tired because it's been a long day -- but I have to go through the images, and even if it's just to find a few that make me happy. And then I can stop and go to bed.

I realized the photos I like best tell stories. So here are three.

Part I: The violinist

It's quite common to hear a variety of music being performed in the metro stations. Ordinarily, I don't stop to listen because I've yet to hear music that's worth stopping for. In my humble opinion, that is.

I understand (and you do, too, I'm sure) what it's like to enjoy something so much that you have to close your eyes to experience it. I did not have my eyes closed, but the slight, long-haired man, dressed all in black and playing the violin... his eyes were closed.

He played that violin like nothing else in the world existed except for him, and the violin, and the music.

The music was etheral, and haunting, and I couldn't quite place what I was hearing and for once, I didn't want to leave the station immediately. I remembered a recent story I had heard about virtuoso Joshua Bell playing his violin in a DC Metro station (imagine that!) and how barely anyone even noticed. If you haven't read this story, you should.

When the musician stopped playing, we talked for a few minutes. The piece I was playing he had improvised (that amazed me just in itself, what a concept) and that he was visiting from Atlanta, before going on to LA. I was already sad to know that he wasn't a local and I wouldn't see him in the metro station again.

We talked about his violins and his CDs, and a little bit about Venice. I remembered the violin museum I had gone to in San Marco, a place he would have loved more than any normal person. He's never been to Venice. I hope he gets there someday, for that city and violins are good friends.


Part II: The man on the street

Coming up to the street, I saw the Truth Building again. I know it's a repeat from a previous post, but it's a photo I really love.

The sun was hanging lower in the sky, drifting into late afternoon.

The man gently helping the little boy on his bike, with training wheels, made me smile. Against the hard backdrop of this gritty part of town, you realize that kids still need to learn to ride their bikes.

Near the Hibernia Bank, at the corner of Jones and McAllister, the clouds were filling the sky with an end-of-day fullness.

Even the neon lights had something to say.


he says: hey lady, take my picture.

then he starts goofing off, wiggling around and striking crazy poses. which of course makes for a terrible photo.

i say: stand still and just act normal. otherwise i can't take your picture!

he says: act normal? i haven't done that in my whole life!

he laughs. and stands still.

and then i take his picture.

i tell him he has nice eyes. he does.

and then he can't help it... boys will be boys.


These old buildings must have so many stories to tell. I guess I'm not too sure how many of them I'd really want to know without them weighing down on my heart. But even in their present state, I find these places quite beautiful in their way.

The light is starting to fade to night. And my lens isn't wide enough to take it all in.

Contrasts appeal to me. I love finding unique juxtapositions ... and seem to notice more of them when I'm toting a camera around. Next to this men's club (and what Obama has to do with the club, I have no idea) is a rescue mission. Both the gentleman's club and the rescue mission were locked tight. No escape and no solace to be found in either place.

I wonder what this mural is really trying to tell the people that see it. I'd like to think that it's something like: there are more good people than bad people, and not this, which is seems pretty vague and not very inspiring. People living in this neighborhood need a little bit more than ambiguity.


Part III: The artist

Here I am, sitting and waiting for a new friend who, when I meet her, feels like an old soul. The air in the restaurant is thick with rich, delicious smoke from the tandoori oven, and I feel like I'm at an Indian barbeque. I've come in off the street to wait for her, since standing outside the restaurant was starting to get me admirers I didn't want.

I wish I could be in this neighborhood, invisible, to observe and take photos, but I can't. Standing outside waiting, a man who looked very much like the one I took photos of earlier, lurches towards me, an open beer can barely concealed inside a brown paper bag.

He smiles at me and says, you're so pretty. You're like an angel. Before I know it, he's reached out to push some hair away from my face. I wish I was braver. All I could say was thank you and then turn inside to the safety of the restaurant.

Indoors, away from the dark and the street, my new friend and I talk and plan. We talk about Cairo, where she was born, and the Mission, where she lives now. We talk about veils and makeup and photography and paintings and dance.

Three meetings. One afternoon.


While I was working on these images, I was listening to Paul's music, so I made a slideshow to share with you. The track is from his album, Ghosts, and the piece is called "Under The Direction Of St. Teresa VI."

You can learn more about Paul Mercer, listen to his music or order CDs on his myspace page.... http://profile.myspace.com/paulmercer


ps.: you can see this set of photos on flickr and leave comments here, too.


Brook February 10, 2009 at 10:58 AM  

All I can say is NICE. I seem to be all out of words today so will leave it at that.

Susana February 10, 2009 at 11:02 AM  

Hi there. Lovely photos.

The relationship between the violinist and his violin is quite an intense and complicated one... a bit like a love relationship, in a way. My husband is a violinist and he has been playing since he was six... he loves his violin and sometimes hates it... playing it is such hard work, but man, when he reaches certain note, or colour, tone, texture... it is like flying, completely magical!

Hugs from Spain...

Char February 10, 2009 at 11:04 AM  

I love this set and now I love the stories behind the set too. I wish my neighbor sang as beautifully as your violinist. A wonderful walk.

Liz February 10, 2009 at 11:43 AM  

Fantastic post.

I think the mural is missing commas. There is good, people! There is bad, people!

J9 February 10, 2009 at 11:44 AM  

I have found that just making eye contact and talking to the people you meet on the street can be a heart wrenching and fulfilling experience - all at the same time!

Bee February 10, 2009 at 11:53 AM  

Stunning photos. They have taken me to a place where my children are not fighting over the computer downstairs! (I should let one of them use mine, but I'm too selfish because I want to continue looking at these life-filled, beautiful pictures . . .)

Wildeve February 10, 2009 at 12:17 PM  

Great photos- fascinating, and somehow haunting, post. Thank you!

paris parfait February 10, 2009 at 12:35 PM  

I like the photo of that homeless (?) guy - have seen him around, forever! As for the violinist, it's curious that he appears to be playing it almost like a guitar. Or maybe that's just the angle of the photo? Nice images of the buildings too - some of them safer, when viewed at a distance. I love that in San Francisco, you can experience so much diversity in one day.

namastenancy February 10, 2009 at 12:49 PM  

You are a poet of the visual. Superb, haunting, beautiful images.

Former Fat Chick February 10, 2009 at 1:19 PM  

Thanks, now I MUST add SF to places I must live in before I die!

julochka February 10, 2009 at 1:45 PM  

i'm so glad you take us along on your walks...you make me want to go out and be more open and fight the cultural closedness around me more actively. i think i'll start tomorrow and drag the child along, so she gets the idea too. you just get so much out of being open to experiences. thank you for the reminder, my lovely tangobaby...


Gabby February 10, 2009 at 3:36 PM  

The tenderloin shots are heartrendingly gorgeous. You need to compile a book for blurb with it. Need a text collaborator?

Looking and listening, I instantly thought of this:


If you have the time, read the entire Lopez series.

Kath February 10, 2009 at 4:21 PM  

I start my stay-vacation tomorrow. I'm heading back to Ottawa. I plan to breathe, relax and see what I can see, I bet most of it will be through the lens of my camera. These are all amazing photos, thanks for inspiring me.

Adam February 10, 2009 at 7:22 PM  


I wish I just had a sliver of your eye!

i have no eye for photography!

Iasa February 10, 2009 at 8:24 PM  

Once again, you give us some fabulous photographs. You are getting me all hyped up for my trip to SanFran in April.

A Beautiful Mind February 11, 2009 at 5:26 AM  

Fantastic post! Paul's music is hauntingly lovely. Chills!

Christina February 11, 2009 at 6:18 AM  

Happy tears. : ) Positively, beautiful.

a painter February 11, 2009 at 7:05 AM  

"There is good photographers"...and you are one of them.

That photo essay was excellent! Loved it all, especially the strange juxtapositions!

Starlene February 11, 2009 at 7:57 AM  

I was in love with this post when I read "...his eyes were closed". Oh, what a visual that was. A pulsing crowd streaming around one man, lost in a world of spectral sound...with his eyes closed." I may have mentioned this...I have a special weakness for the violin. It makes me ache with something I can never put my finger on.

Just when I thought I couldn't love this anymore, I see you've compiled all your photos with the very music that was inspiring you. I think the music we feed our heads with when we create is a crucial part of the finished product that can rarely be included so this was a real treat!

I love living vicariously through all your local travels! : )

Cynthia February 11, 2009 at 8:17 AM  

What a full day, Tangobaby. And then you listened to this sad intense heartfelt music...a kind of lovely moodiness while you selected your images. So sweet. So sad. You should call this "A Real Day; Shot With no Filter". <3

Btw, it's probably good that you are not so brave to allow gentle caresses from unknown people. Since, I've moved to Puerto Rico, I've realized the necessity for some boundaries. You are incredibly brave as it is!

Mike Adamick February 11, 2009 at 12:07 PM  

amazing photos. just amazing.

Mike @ cry it out

robinbird February 13, 2009 at 7:28 AM  

oh look what cynthia above said!! i was going to say something similar... you are brave, i often imagine you walking around and talking to all these strangers, making friends, acquaintances ... having these experiences. i would like to be braver. i get all uncomfortable when i am alone with my camera and wanting to take photos of strangers...which i would very much like to do. my camera seems so BIG, so intrusive. this music made me cry and like cynthia i was moved by it and your storytelling.
p.s. your post processing is getting really good my dear. i am loving the look of the building scenes :)

robinbird February 13, 2009 at 7:42 AM  

p.s. i went to the site gabby mentions and it is amazing to think about this man and his illness and the power of music...

Relyn February 15, 2009 at 1:54 PM  

Oh. OH!! I had to stop after reading the violin story and comment right now. There it is again. The way you make friends with everyone who catches your interest. I love that about you. I want to be more like you in that respect. I'm the one who would stop and listen and be too timid ever to talk to him. Just look at all the encounters I miss out on. Oh, I wish you would write a self-help post entitled "how to make friends with strangers". I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who needs it.

Relyn February 15, 2009 at 2:13 PM  

TB, There isn't much I enjoy more than taking a walk with you. This was wonderful! Each photo was absolutely amazing. (And thank you for the link to the article about Joshua Bell. Fascinating.) I loved the "boys will be boys" photo so much. We all know boys just like this. I love that bug-eyed silliness. Makes me laugh.