Focusing on ballerina moms

BalancingActs_cover

PHOTOGRAPHY | LUCY GRAY

When I was 10, my parents divorced — and I watched with fear and admiration as my mother got her first job so she could support five children. That made me sensitive to the subject of working mothers. It wasn’t surprising that later, as a photographer with children, I would try and get at that subject. I asked friends who were working mothers to pose for me.

One was an executive who pumped milk in her car as she drove to work each morning. But I couldn’t get the dare in what she did in my pictures. You couldn’t see the baby crying at home, or her anxiety about expressing enough milk, or her cool in doing it right before a meeting with business executives.

I knew almost nothing about ballet or dancers but when I met Katita Waldo, a prima ballerina at the San Francisco Ballet, holding her 3-day-old son James at CalMart, I wanted to photograph her. Her work was visual and, when she brought her son to the studio or the stage, what I would capture would inherently show the two worlds.

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Small work, modest prices

Studio Gallery’s “Tiny” show includes more than 300 works, most no larger than 7x7 inches.

Studio Gallery’s “Tiny” show includes more than 300 works, most no larger than 7×7 inches.

ART | JEROME TARSHIS

It begins like many a story of San Francisco’s superheated real estate market: A small business, serving its neighborhood for years, is pushed out in favor of a clothing shop that could afford the higher rent.

Studio Gallery — sporting the slogan “local color by local artists” and originally housed on Polk Street — reflected the real lives of the couple who created it.

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Images that tell a story

David Johnson and his iconic 1946 photograph in the 1300 on Fillmore lounge.
Photograph by Rory Earnshaw

A CONVERSATION with photographer David Johnson and his old friend and new wife, author Jacqueline Sue, as a new exhibition of his photographs of the Fillmore during the “Harlem of the West” era opens.

Jackie: In November we will have known each other for 58 years. Just a few weeks ago we celebrated your 88th birthday and our fifth wedding anniversary. Do you remember how we met?

David: Well, my wife Lucy and I and our two children were attending the Westside Christian Church at Bush and Divisadero. The mostly white congregation was interested in bringing more African-Americans to their church. A black pharmacist named Wayman Fuller who was a member invited my family, and we met you there.

Jackie: New in town, age 21, no friends, I was there because it was my family denomination in Kentucky and that was the only Christian Church in San Francisco.

David: You and Lucy bonded quickly and became friends because you were both among the first African-American long distance operators in the 1950s.

Jackie: When your son Michael was born in 1957 and I became his godmother, you were already an established photographer, but I didn’t realize it.

David: Yes, by then, I had photographed many of the historical photographs that are now being exhibited. My studio was on Divisadero Street not far from our church.

DAVID JOHNSON RETROSPECTIVE
David Johnson’s photographs are on view at the Harvey Milk Photo Center at 50 Scott Street from September 6 to October 19.

You see, as a youth growing up in Jacksonville, Florida, I found that I was curious about the neighborhood and environment where I lived. We were poor and living on the edge. However, my foster mother provided a good place for me to grow up.

After my discharge from the Navy following World War II, I decided to come to San Francisco and study photography with Ansel Adams at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute). While Ansel and other students photographed Yosemite and nature, it was a natural fit for me to photograph people and the Fillmore community I lived in.

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The art of the Arctic

Soapstone sculpture by the renowned Inuit artist Jonas Faber is featured at Images of the North.

Soapstone sculpture by Inuit artist Jonas Faber is featured at Images of the North.

By Judy Goddess

IMAGES OF THE NORTH gallery at 2036 Union Street may be small in size, but its collection is rich in artistry and giant in vision.

“Inuit art is magical,” says owner Lesley Leonhardt of the art she presents capturing the Arctic landscape and culture. Her Union Street gallery houses one of the country’s most extensive collections of Inuit art by established and emerging artists from all over the Arctic. Sculpture fills the floor; smaller pieces are stored in narrow cabinets along the walls; jewelry and prints are hung on the walls and displayed in cabinets and racks in the back of the gallery.

From September 13 to October 9, the gallery will showcase soapstone sculpture by Jonas Faber, its third exhibition of the internationally heralded artist known for his bold, personal style and his creative treatment of Inuit cultural themes and myths.

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At the top of his game

FJF14

POSTER ARTIST | MICHAEL SCHWAB

You’ve seen them all across San Francisco in recent weeks — striking posters featuring a wavy-haired female vocalist silhouetted against a fiery orange background. The image for this year’s Fillmore Jazz Festival poster and street banners was created by Marin artist Michael Schwab, one of the country’s leading graphic artists. His dynamic posters and logos for the Golden Gate National Parks, Major League Baseball, America’s Cup, Amtrak, Robert Mondavi, Peet’s Coffee, the San Francisco Opera and Nike, among many others, are icons of our time. Schwab talked about creating his third Fillmore jazz poster with ARThound editor Geneva Anderson.

What makes a really effective poster? And why are so many posters today so bad?

Simplicity. There’s way too much visual noise out there. Graphic messages are conveyed much more effectively when the design is simple, bold and efficient.

You’ve had a long involvement with the Fillmore Jazz Festival. What is it about jazz that lends itself to visual expression?

I love all kinds of music, but jazz in particular inspires me. I love this project because I’ve had complete freedom to do whatever I want. The bass player I created eight years ago was my first Fillmore jazz poster and I envisioned him as a Ray Brown-like bass player. If you’re driving down the street, you’ve only got a second or two to get the message, so I wanted to evoke the romance and history of jazz in the Fillmore. Four years later they called me again. At the time I was really into Miles Davis and was playing Ascenseur pour l’échafaud, his soundtrack for the Louis Malle film, a lot. I made a Miles Davis-esque horn player. I wanted a really cool color so I went with a deep blue that evokes that late evening jazz atmosphere that’s so special on Fillmore. Now, four years later, I realize I’ve been slowly creating my own jazz band. It was time for a singer — and a woman.

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New plaza coming to Fillmore

Rendering of the new Gene Suttle Plaza on Fillmore

Rendering of the new Gene Suttle Plaza on Fillmore

WORK BEGINS in early March on an ambitious new plan to transform the forlorn public plaza at Fillmore and O’Farrell streets into a dynamic green space that honors the history and culture of the neighborhood.

“It’s got a lot packed in,” said architect Jane Martin, whose Shift Design Studio designed the new plaza. “We want it to be fun and engaging.”

The paved checkerboard with the names of key figures from neighborhood history will remain, but eight squares of bricks will be removed and converted to planted areas with built-in benches. All of the plants will be native to Africa, and African symbols like those on nearby buildings will also be incorporated into the design. References to the earlier history of the area when it was largely a Jewish neighborhood will also be included.

“Our plan is to subvert the checkerboard and use the plaza as a way to make sense of a lot of disparate elements that have been added over time,” said Martin.

The nonprofit San Francisco Beautiful is coordinating the project with the owners of the property, nearby merchants and city agencies. The public is invited to join a community work day scheduled on Saturday, March 15, which is also when the planting will be done. The plaza is envisioned as the first phase of a larger series of neighborhood improvement projects that will unfold over the next two years.

“This is one more bead on the string,” said Kearstin Krehbiel, executive director of San Francisco Beautiful.

Made locally and beautifully

Photograph of Kristen van Diggelen by Dana Harel

Photograph of Kristen van Diggelen, creator of vanIvey Ceramics, by Dana Harel

WHEN SHE MOVED to the neighborhood six years ago, Kristen van Diggelen was an aspiring art student who had her sights set on a career as a painter.

One day she wandered into Cottage Industry, the eclectic emporium at 2328 Fillmore, seeking inspiration. But she found far more. The building, with two street-level storefronts and four flats above, is one of the more artistically historic structures in the city, having been home to many of the Bay Area’s best-known artists and poets of the Beat generation in the 1950s and ’60s.

She found not only subjects to paint and an artistic legacy, but also an apartment and a studio — and even an opportunity to be something of a saloniste for a couple of years in one of the vacant shops, where she held monthly gatherings to show her work and that of other emerging artists.

She found opportunities she was seeking and some she never dreamed of. But like many artistic pursuits, they didn’t pay very well. So after she graduated from the San Francisco Art Institute with a master of fine arts degree, she began teaching a high school ceramics class at Cornerstone Academy in 2010.

“Ceramics was one of the highlights of my arts education,” she says, “but I went to graduate school on a painting scholarship, so I felt like everything else had to take a back seat.”

Then when she found herself around clay again, her old flame flickered anew.
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Getting to know the neighbors

Julie and Mark Swenson are part of a neighborhood photography project.

Julie and Mark Swenson are part of a neighborhood photography project.

PHOTOGRAPHY | Sheila McLaughlin

I had a problem: I didn’t know where to borrow a cup of sugar.

I’m an artist who has lived in the same flat in the neighborhood for 20 years, but I hardly knew any of my neighbors.

Those who lived above had moved away. Same for those next door, across the street and around the corner. I saw some of the neighbors who remain; I looked into their windows; I parked my car in front of their homes. But to see them isn’t to know them.

Camera in hand, I set out to change that. Earlier this year, I began photographing the people in my immediate neighborhood in an attempt to weave together a community through photography. The conceit was simple: I approached people on the street and asked to come into their homes and photograph them.
With surprisingly little hesitation, they’ve said yes. It turns out that I am not alone: Living in a city surrounded by people is isolating for many. We are crammed up against each other by concrete, but might as well have rivers and mountains between us.

My project documenting — and attempting to change — this shared experience is called simply “Neighbors.”

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Showcase returns to Pacific Heights

Photograph of 2800 Pacific Avenue by Michael David Rose

Photograph of 2800 Pacific Avenue by Michael David Rose

The annual San Francisco Decorator Showcase is now open in the neighborhood, this year at the top of Pacific Heights at 2800 Pacific Avenue. It features the work of more than two dozen local designers and invites the public to tour one of the iconic mansions designed by pioneering architect Ernest Coxhead.

SLIDE SHOW: Inside the 2013 showcase
EARLIER: A tour with the owner

Photographer made his mark on Fillmore

A new book tells David Johnson's story and includes many of his photographs.

A HANDSOME NEW BOOK — melodiously titled A Dream Begun So Long Ago — chronicles the life of photographer David Johnson from his childhood, shuffling through the care of various adults in segregated Jacksonville, Florida, through his on-and-off relationship with the art of photography. Now it’s firmly on again as the 86-year-old relishes his recognition as one of the foremost historical chroniclers of black life in San Francisco and the Fillmore community in particular.

In the book, told in the first person and written with his wife Jacqueline Annette Sue, Johnson reminisces about his early days under the tutelage of Ansel Adams — and the day in 1946 he climbed up on a scaffold to take what would become an iconic photograph of the neighborhood called Looking South on Fillmore. Excerpts from the book follow.

I work in the darkroom alongside Ansel Adams as he produces very large black and white landscape murals. As I watch him working, we have a conversation about print quality as he applies some developer to a print. I say laughingly, “I thought you were a purist,” meaning showing the photograph just as it was taken. Ansel chuckles and says, “Yes, but I am not an absolute purist.”
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