Time Traveller on Haight Ashbury
I arrived in San Francisco for the first time in 2013 for a photography workshop mostly to meet a photographer whose work I admire. I didn’t stay much but after several days I was determined to return. At the time I didn’t know much about the city and about its history. Every person that I talked with had a different story to tell me and all of these were true. Photographers were asking me if I heard about some great photographers, musicians were asking me if I heard about some music legends that live there. I knew nothing about any of these back then. From what I could observe, San Francisco is a place in which things change from one street to another and I was equally fascinated by the palaces from Presidio Heights or by the hippie culture from Haight Street. I reached the latter in my quest for my passion to collect old records. I asked the assistant of this photographer about places and he indicated me the biggest one, Amoeba Music, which is a located at one end of Haight Street. This was my first contact with this place but it wasn’t a revelatory one. I didn’t see anything special and I could say that is the thing with Haight Street - it has seasons, it has a life that is blooming in certain conditions.
After one year I returned to pursue an MFA program at one of San Francisco’s art schools and I stayed for another two and a half years. Without knowing about Haight Street I rented a nice place somewhere close to this street and by accident I reached a local market during a “blooming” time. That was the moment I became fascinated about this place and mostly by the people whom I saw there. I always return to a place that leaves me such a powerful impression. A 6 p.m. sun in the summer, hotness, people drinking, smoking weed and singing, all the sidewalks full of radiant people who were walking in this half of mile piece of street that ends at the intersection with Ashbury Street and who would give one the impression of returning in time to live again the Sumer of Love and the time when Jimi Hendrix was living there. From time to time that would be the mood of the street but I couldn’t say exactly why and when. In my wish to be on this street and feel it I would need a reason and buying a film camera and learning how to use it seemed to be the right one. I love to watch people on the street but without a camera I might seem shady to others - and there is this pleasure of collecting the likeness of these interesting people that I see. My excitement came also from the way the camera and the film rendered that reality.
I lost some great portraits and moments because I had to change the film in that exact moment but at least I had the opportunity to look for and impregnate them in my memory. I had also the opportunity to meet great people while photographing, people that later would help me in my future photographic projects. I spent many days on this street during the time I lived in San Francisco and this street became my playground and the place where I would meet my friends. I walked many days without seeing anything or anyone in a desolated atmosphere - these would be the times when I could see what is beyond the glamour. In a city in which now predominates the millionaire techies and the hipster subculture, this seemed to me a hippie oasis that is fighting with the intrusions resulting from the process of gentrification that is affecting San Francisco natives.
The images that I took here seem to reflect this. While the houses on Haight Street belong to the richer, the street is still belonging to the dreamers, travellers, artists and hippies. They are coming from all over the country and some of them are willing to be homeless just to stay here. This small side of the street seemed to be about contrasts or better said about a peaceful communion of different people but this communion starts to fade though since surveillance cameras were installed in the parks that surrounds this street - these were the home of some of the people from my photos. Simultaneously there is the way the city is dealing with homelessness which is making the people who formed this local street culture, who were usually seasonal travellers, not come here anymore.