On Monday, my first full day on the west coast, Jeff Fielding and I spent time roaming around San Francisco; talking, eating, and shooting. San Francisco is a great place to photograph and as Jeff says, if you live here, there's no reason you can't make good photographs.
Of course, I am quite far from Mooreland, Indiana, so for me at least it's not literally close to home, but the things I've learned photographing my own back yard have helped me try to get past the "trophy" shots (the Golden Gate bridge, Alcatraz Island—a few of which I did take) and move on to photographs that are closer to my personal perception of this place. This photograph is from the end of the day, when we visited the Marin Headlands across the Golden Gate bridge from the city. This area is an interesting place, with landscapes worthy of many other places on the planet. It reminds me a bit of some of the recent shots I've seen from Iceland and of course it reinforces the lesson that you don't have to travel far to find good photographs. This scene is 20 minutes from downtown San Francisco.
We also spent a little time in the morning in Chinatown, photographing the shops and the people there, and just spending time wandering and talking. It's kind of a tough place to shoot because there's so much to catch your eye, making it difficult to keep yourself focused on what you're trying to say. For me, there were two stories here: one about people who have established themselves as merchants and residents; some of whom are second and third generations (and beyond) living here. The sons/grandsons and daughters/granddaughters of the first generation are part of the second story; those who want move on to new and different places. Instead, however, I ended up learning something completely different. Something I didn't like.
This woman was doing some late afternoon shopping at a small market, along with many other folks who live nearby. She went about her business slowly and deliberately, making me think that she was comfortable here. Why don't I know? Because, I'm ashamed to say, I dropped into stealth mode here. The market was crowded and I couldn't think of a good way to approach this woman—or anyone else for that matter—without imposing in their daily lives for something as seemingly insignificant as my need to make a photograph. Believe me when I say I've read and taken to heart the lessons about approaching people and establishing a relationship before photographing them, but it wasn't until I was in this situation—and I didn't do it—that I really understood the difference. It felt wrong, like I was actually taking something from them, where I could have gotten to know them first and instead given something to both of us. I find myself now guessing at what this woman was doing at the market, beyond the obvious need to buy food, and I'd rather I knew. Not because it would make this blog post more interesting —though it certainly would—but because knowing more about her is just as important as making the photograph.
I wish I had taken the time to try to talk to her and several other people I saw during our walk: the barber sitting in the doorway his tiny shop, cleaning and oiling his clippers while waiting for his next customer; the women in the fortune cookie factory who smiled indulgently while I tried to photograph them as they worked. I have photographs of all of them, but I think I'd rather have their stories; stories that would have been so interesting to know but I couldn't bring myself to ask. I didn't start the conversation first and I'm the lesser for it.