Taylor Street, San Francisco

My exploration of the city includes walking some longer streets in their entirety. A couple of years ago I posted a report from my epic walk of 17th Street from east to west. Today we look at my walk of Taylor Street from south to north through the city.

Taylor Street

In the map, Taylor Street is a deceptively straight road heading from Market Street downtown to Fisherman’s Wharf. But as with many of the older streets in San Francisco, the simplicity of the straight line belies the complexity of the terrain it follows and diversity of neighborhoods, people and architecture along the way.

Taylor and Market

Taylor Street begins at a five-way intersection with Market Street that also includes Golden Gate Avenue and 6th Street. The Luggage Store Gallery is close to the intersection, as was the temporary space for the Outsound series where Pitta of the Mind performed in February. It also one of grittiest and grungiest sections of the city. It has cleaned up significantly even since the time I moved here almost eight years ago. And while some of that is welcome, I do worry that the area is ripe to be turned into something more bland and vapid, akin to the newer Mission Bay developments, even if some of the building facades are preserved. That would be a tragedy. Walking up the first few blocks of Taylor into the Tenderloin district, one sees a cross section of grit and grunge and stylish old buildings, and a wide range of people that make up the life of a city.

Taylor Street in the Tenderloin

There are many alleys and side streets throughout this part of the city. Here we see Adelaide Street, which was renamed for Isadora Duncan, the pioneer of modern dance. Her family lived in a house nearby on Taylor street.

Isadora Duncan Lane

As we approach Nob Hill, the street takes a steep turn upward. The roadway narrows, parking becomes perpendicular, and the sidewalks have embedded staircases on this block.

Ascending Nob Hill

The architecture and character of the neighborhood is changing as well. We are entering one of the older affluent neighborhoods of the city. There are many of the classic bay-windowed buildings that continue up from the base of the hill, but also some larger mid-century apartments as well.

At the crest of the hill, Taylor Street crosses California Street with its cable car lines.

Taylor and California

On one corner is Grace Cathedral, while on the other side are this large classic 1960s-style apartment buildings that remind me of New York. The park across from the cathedral is very stylized and manicured, more a turn-of-the-20th-century garden than a contemporary urban park. If I want some exercise and nice outdoor spot for lunch, I should come up here.

Continuing north, he street veers downward, but then after a dip it turns upward again as it ascends the even steeper Russian Hill.

Down Nob Hill up Russian Hill

As we ascend the hill, we pass over the Broadway Tunnel, which carries the main Broadway as a limited access road underneath the hill to Van Ness Avenue. A side street continues up the hill to meet Taylor on top of the tunnel, providing spectral views of North Beach, Chinatown and the Financial District.

Above the Broadway Tunnel

Readers may recognize this view from the more stylized version in a recent Wordless Wednesday photo.

Up the steep hill, one sees more of the modern tall apartment buildings. Again these remind me of some of the apartments on the steep hillsides in the Riverdale section of the Bronx.

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As we descend the north side of the hill into North Beach, the buildings become more of the classic San Francisco style, but a bit more pitched and in brighter colors than they were further south.

Descending Russian Hill

Along this incline, I discovered another interesting alley.

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The sign marking Redfield Alley is one of the older embossed models that one rarely sees any longer. It uses similar type and the same color scheme as the contemporary signs, so it is probably from the 1950s or 1960s. The alley itself narrow opening to a green space. It feels more like a European city than the typical American city, but of course San Francisco is not typical of cities in this country.

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At the base of the hill, Taylor crosses Columbus Avenue. The Powell and Mason cable car line turns onto Taylor, ending at cul-de-sac about a block away.

Taylor end of cable car line.

But this is not the end of Taylor Street. It’s just an interruption for the terminus of the cable-car line (why that line ends so abruptly is a story for another time). The street actually resumes, now in Fisherman’s Wharf. It is flat here, lined entirely with chintzy shops and choked with tourists. I see a couple of office buildings around here, and find myself curious what it would be like to have a normal office job in the middle of such a neighborhood.

Taylor Street continues across the large sprawling plaza at the north end of Fisherman’s Wharf, amidst the crowds of meandering tourists, and finally ends at an intersection with the Embarcedero along the waterfront.

North terminus of Taylor Street

I’m rarely ever up here, so it’s a bit of a novelty. But the disorganized slow-moving crowds of people are not very comforting, so I catch a vehicle back home. It certainly an interesting walk to see all the changes in space and time along this street. And there will be more such excursions to talk about.

Wordless Wednesday: Concrete Plant Park, Bronx, New York

Concrete Plant Park

Report from Spring Open Studios, Art Explosion

Open Studios has become a semi-annual experience for me since moving to San Francisco in 2008. Each time, I frenetically go from studio to studio in my guise as a reviewer and collector, seeing large amounts of work and interacting with artists. This time the tables were turned, as I was presenting my own photography work as part of the Spring Open Studios at Art Explosion. So rather than reviewing art, I will be reviewing the experience of presenting art, and interacting with viewers. Art Explosion is composed of two large buildings of artists’ studios in the ambiguous industrial neighborhood between the Mission and Potrero Hill. It was often one of the first stops on my Open Studio tours, and the small open studios were and supportive community were a natural choice for presenting my work.

I had two walls of an open studio space, along with additional space in the main hall and one piece in the entranceway (every artist had a piece here as part of a “sampler” wall). You can see the three walls in the images below (click on the small images to enlarge).



[Click images to view full size]

In all, I had 16 pieces featured. Additionally, I made a few “mini editions” of some of the pieces (4×6 inches) and had two video presentations of works that were not physically part of the show.

Over the three main days of Open Studios (and an additional Saturday the week after), I sat and waited as people walked by and sometimes stopped to view my work, and occasionally ask questions or give feedback. Some walked through without stopping to look, others spent a couple of minutes viewing intently without saying a word, or maybe a quick “very nice work” before wandering off. But a decent number of people did ask questions or more detailed responses. The most common questions I got were about the locations of the photographs, i.e., “Where was this one taken?” All the pieces I presented were from the Bay Area, New York or Shanghai, and discussing the locations or having viewers try to guess which was which became part of the interaction. There were definitely clues in each, in particular the more exotic architecture of the Shanghai high-rises and the distinctive San Francisco “No Parking” signs. Very few people were able to recognize the half-demolished overpass from the Transbay Terminal in San Francisco featured in the largest piece, though this one was among pieces most positively received.

The other pieces that seemed to receive the most intention were Asians.com (Invisible Bike) with the big orange cat, and Dragon (Moganshan Lu) with the dragon mural, half-demolished building and garbage-strewn street. I did an experiment moving these two pieces around after the first day to see if it was the location or the content that attracted people, but they still seemed to get the most attention. I had not predicted that Dragon would get so much attention – or eventually be the first large piece to be sold! It was one of those interesting surprises when exposing the work to public viewing.

I also had an interesting conversation about the location in 5348, one of two pieces in the show featuring a model. I have used that building on multiple occasions, with its mysterious mess of hanging cables.

It turns out that someone who came through and saw the show was familiar with the building and the people who owned it, and informed me that the structure with the cables was in fact for lifting large objects, freight, etc., but had not been in use for a while. A group of viewers said that the big orange cat was part of a scavenger hunt they participated in.

]Some people seemed more drawn to the aesthetics of individual pieces rather than the subject or context – like me, the focused on lines and textures. Among these viewers, 7059 (Blue) got the most attention. A few viewers did try to look for “musical” elements within my work after learning that music was my primary art form – they noticed repeated patterns and motives in the lines.

Overall, it was a good experience. I was able to show my photographs in physical form to a large number of people and received quite a bit of positive feedback. Among those who came to see the show were a few of the artists I have reviewed here on CatSynth in the past, which was very gratifying; and many friends came by over the four days I was showing. Selling a large piece and a handful of miniatures, of course, nice as well. Interestingly, I also managed to sell some music CDs. Some things I may do differently in future shows is have a larger variety of miniatures on hand – e.g., at least one of every piece I think can be reasonably represented in a small size (some just don’t look good small). I may also experiment with different types of framing and mounting – this was probably the hardest part of preparing for the show.

One unfortunate aspect of presenting my own work is that it left me very little time to explore and see what others were doing. I did take a few breaks to see friends as well as discover new work, though not at the level of detail I would have done in previous shows.

You can see images from Open Studios at this flickr set, or visit my page at Art Explosion.

Double Vision: Hysteresis

A couple of weekends ago, I attended the premier of Hysteresis, a performance described as “70 minutes of non-stop, innovative dance, sound, lights, and costumes informed by a residency at the Museumsquartier in Vienna, Austria.” It was a production of Double Vision, a group known for performances combining dance, music and technology, and took place at Dance Mission Theater here in San Francisco.


[Photo courtesy of Double Vision. Click to see larger version.]

Hysteresis explored the theme of “being alien or observing that which is alien to oneself.” However, for me the performance did not feel alien at all. Indeed, each of the artists’ approach to alien-ness via dance, music, choreography and lighting ended up creating something that felt familiar for me and comforting in its sparseness. The choreography had a feel of individuals going about their business in a city environment, sometimes moving about in wildly different directions, sometimes very static. The lighting had a very geometric and architectural feel. The dancers’ costumes also had an architectural or industrial quality and consisted of simple tunics stitched together from geometric gray and black swatches of cloth and black leggings.

The music held together these elements with industrial and percussive sounds punctuated by references to popular music idioms, as one might hear passing buildings and cars in between traffic and construction. It started with short percussive notes, mostly struck metal and block. At first the sounds were very sparse but later on they formed into complex polyrhythms, sometimes with more standard percussion instruments like kick drums and snare drums mixed in. The sparse texture was interrupted by other sections of music, such as short samples from big-band music, classical (or classically inspired) string music, and passages that sounded like show tunes or brass bands. It was not clear these were found musical objects or composed from sratch. Towards the climax of there piece, there were more sounds that one might consider more “electronic”, such as noise, synthesizer sweeps and sub-bass tones. However, even as the idioms and timbres changed and the music became quite dense, the sparse rhythmic texture from the beginning of the piece kept going, like machinery of a city that never stops. Or almost never stops – there were a few moments where it cut out entirely, and the silence was quite startling.


[Photo courtesy of Double Vision. Click to see larger version.]

The often sparse texture of the music allowed one to focus more on not only the movements of the dancers, but also the sounds they made in terms of the movement of their bodies and breathing. After one particularly loud section everything fell silent, the dancers moved off stage, and one rectangular patch of light kept flickering. This light seemed to be of particular significance (it was the only one that cast a rectangular shape) and appeared occasionally throughout the piece.

The final section began with what sounded like machine or car sounds and moved towards what sounded like an elegant party with piano music, and the faded to silence. It was a strange ending after the very industrial sound throughout the rest of the piece, but it provided an interesting contrast.

Choreography for the piece was by Pauline Jennings, music by Sean Clute, lighting design by Ben Coolik, and costume design by Andrea Campbell.

In the shadow of the bridge

When nothing else is happening on a quiet weekend afternoon, I will often go for a walk through our neighborhood, South of Market (SOMA) and South Beach. Our neighborhood is in many ways more like New York than the rest of San Francisco, with its old industrial buildings, dilapidated piers on the waterfront, and new condo developments. But perhaps that adds to the sense of familiarity, and of “home”, amidst the concrete.

Our walk usually begins on Townsend Street, heading east towards the waterfront. This area is dominated by AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants. But while crowds head towards the stadium in the summer, we often head in the opposite direction. There is a little park at the end of Townsend along the Embarcadero, where I often see older Eastern European folks. Across the park is the cul-de-sac that marks the end of Delancy Street, a name reminiscent of the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Here I often stop at a small cafe – it has a large garden that can be enjoyed on its own or for the glimpses of the bay it affords.

There are some books I only seem to read when I’m out at places like this, rather than at home. One such book is The Cat: A Tale of Feminine Redemption. I will stop and read a chapter while enjoying a coffee and the views. Though sometimes I opt for one of our free weekly papers instead. I like the idea of being contrary, reading esoteric books while a major sporting event is going on nearby. But in a large, cosmopolitan city, there are always people doing their own thing. One is never really alone.

Beyond the cafe is the southern portion of the Embarcadero, which contains glimpses of a seedy and crumbling past while being revitalized with the stadium and frenzied development.

Heading south along the Embarcadero, one approaches the Bay Bridge. Commercial buildings, as well as residential complexes, have sprung up in its shadow. I enjoy seeing these buildings fit comfortably beneath the bridge:

Some of them have appear older, more reminiscent of the 1970s or even earlier, while huge new high rises are going up all around them.

I then often turn back inward from the waterfront on Bryant Street. This is generally a wide street that crosses SOMA and the Mission District, but here it is a narrow alley between the steep approaches to the Bay Bridge and a residential block.

Again, the feeling is more of a residential section of New York, perhaps Riverdale in the Bronx, or the Upper West Side. Of course, the fact that this block interests Delancy Street adds to this impression.

Longtime residents and admirers of San Francisco often look down upon this area, but I find it a comforting place to walk and explore. Certainly, there is familiarity coming from New York, which has always defined “city” for me. And perhaps the sense that I am finally living the city life that I should have done long ago – I am finally home.

The narrow streets and tall buildings abut the hill and the approach to the bridge, with a complex array of staircases and ramps. I often find an excuse to climb at least one, such as this that connects the lower alley section of Bryant Street to the main section that begins on top of the hill.

At the top, one is amazingly close to the freeway and byzantine ramps that feed onto the bridge:

Heading back down the hill towards the west, one can take a detour through South Park, which has nothing to do with the popular cartoon. Instead, it is a small park surrounded by two-story residences that feels more like a neighborhood in Brooklyn. Although it is not far from the this section of freeway we featured a few weeks ago, such things seem invisible and far away. But step outside this oasis, and one is back in the “concrete jungle” and the streets that lead home.



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