Tag Archives: San Francisco

That City by the Bay

I don’t normally do crowds too well. They make me nervous and anxious and grumpy and a little twitchy to the point I want to break out and make a run for the wide open spaces. But I find I can usually tolerate a massive sea of people when walking the streets of the City by the Bay.

San Francisco is one of the few cities where I feel completely comfortable. The sounds, the sights, the smells, even the people, inspire me.

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved. “The Conductor” – Apps used: 645 pro, perfeclyclr, camera+, moku hanga.

[**”The Conductor” was recently featured on Pixels: The Art of the iPhone.]

I worked for several years in downtown San Francisco both on the waterfront in the Embarcadero and also in the Financial District. All I wanted to do at that time was get into the city and up to my office and then rush out of the city at the end of the day. I never took the time to wander back then. It was all about work and money and putting in lots of hours and I rarely slowed down to enjoy the pulse of this beautiful place.

When I started my M.F.A. program at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco my work was completely focused on nature and wildlife and all quiet, peaceful open spaces far from the noise of cities. Several years before I had broken away from all the high stress insanity that was the technology industry and gravitated myself back to my two passions: photography and spending time in nature. Little did I know at the time my journey would come full circle.

Long story short, the focus of my thesis project was a documentary series on the homeless. This series brought me back into San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland, Sacramento, etc. for a period of three intense years of shooting. I was reconnecting with my family history, I was reconnecting with my personal past. Instead of running from my reality, I faced it head on.

During that time I learned to move with the rhythm of the city again. I began to visit the places my own family members had walked many years past. I found a new respect and love for the streets and the people it held. I learned a lot about myself as I wandered, wore out the soles of my shoes and found myself reflected in the lives and the faces of the homeless people that I would meet.

Yet during that time, I was focused once again on my work and I rarely took a moment to just enjoy what this place had to offer.

When I was in San Francisco last week for my M.F.A. graduation, I finally took some time to do the touristy thing. I made a point of riding the cable cars whenever I made my way to an event. I had not ridden a cable car for some 30 years. The first day I hopped on board I was mesmerized and felt the broadest smile cross over my face.

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved. “Chinatown” – Apps used: vintage cam, juxtaposer, pictureshow, scratchcam, modern grunge

I made my way into Chinatown where I walked at the pace of its elders. I felt a sense of balance and ease as my eyes took in all the colors and historical spaces. My nose was filled with the aroma of a Chinese bakery and a Dim Sum restaurant preparing for lunch. I listened to the rhythm of the language and heard the voices of happy children playing in a school playground. I found myself mesmerized with this place and vowed to come back soon to spend more time shooting.

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved. “The Tenant” – Apps used: 645 pro, perfectlyclr, juxtaposer, pictureshow, scratchcam, modern grunge.

As I continued to journey through parts of the city I had never before seen, I came across older dwellings where clothes flapped in the breeze from fire escapes and I felt myself move back in time to a simpler way of life. I imagined the history of each space and wondered about the people who had lived there.

[“The Tenant” was recently featured on Pixels: The Art of the iPhone and was chosen for The App Whisperer‘s Top 10 Special Jubilee Flickr Group Showcase]

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved. “The Race” – Apps used: vintage cam, juxtaposer, picture show, scratchcam, pixlromatic, rainydaze

When riding the cable cars I was intrigued by the steep hills these train cars climbed and then crawled down. Along the way I saw a few brave souls attack those same steep hills on bicycles and even one on a skateboard. My imagination went wild and inside my mind I viewed a race down Nob Hill between a bike and a cable car so of course I had to create a piece called “The Race.”

[** “The Race” was recently featured on Pixels: The Art of the iPhone and made it into The App Whisperer‘s Top 10 Flickr Group Showcase]

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved. “I Left My Heart” – Apps used: 645 pro, perfectlyclr, juxtaposer, wood camera, pictureshow, scratchcam, modern grunge

I no longer work in San Francisco, my family members left there many decades ago and my thesis project was completed and presented last December. But I know I will head back into this wonderful city on a regular basis to photograph its people and its places. This particular city holds a piece of my heart and an important piece of my history and I still have a lot of wandering and discovering and creating left to do.

Carousel of Fear

Carousel at Pier 39, San Francisco, CA

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2010.

Photo:  Carousel at Pier 39, San Francisco, CA.

I normally like carousels…don’t get me wrong.  They tend to evoke happy emotions and visceral memories of innocent childhood fun.  There is just something about the deeply resonant tones of the piped in organ music and the gentle circular motion that makes it all so soothing.  Maybe it is tied to my love of horses and the fact that I never did receive that pony I asked for each Christmas.  Whatever the reason, as an adult I am always drawn to carousels like metal to a magnet.  To watch the intricately painted animals circle by in their hypnotic up and down rhythm.  To hear the echoing tones of the Calliope music fill the air from afar.  To be transported if but for a moment into the past when the promises of life seemed boundless.

For the most part these colorful contraptions appeal to that wide-eyed child deep within.  But they also tend to stir up something far more sinister should I linger; the dark shadows of the past that rode along with that innocence.  The intense moments of fear that consumed every fiber of my being.  When I was pulled towards this particular carousel in Pier 39, I approached it with childlike anticipation.  Yet there was something about the look on the faces of the horses that made me take pause.  Ears pinned back, mouths open wide and legs positioned in an all out run.  A carousel stampede in the making.  A frozen yet tangible moment of fear carved forever on their faces.  What was going through this artist’s head when he carved these figures?  Most likely some of the same things that passed through my own when I decided to snap this photograph.