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Some say San Francisco is over, but not these street photographers

Woman with a scarf blowing in her face on the Golden Gate Bridge. | Courtesy Jake Ricker/@jake_ricker

Some say San Francisco is dead. But a new gallery show in SoMa spanning 40 years of SF street photography aims to show that rumors of the city’s death—and the death of its quirky, eccentric cultural soul—are greatly exaggerated. 

Curated by a slightly secretive street photography enthusiast Adam M. (who prefers to go only by his first name and is better known as @capp_street on Instagram), the exhibition—now on view through March 11 at 1086 Howard—sprung from the pages of a zine the curator published in November 2022. The zine and exhibition, both titled Who Are We?, bring together photos from some of San Francisco’s most heavy-hitting street photographers of the past and showcase the 2020s renaissance of the genre locally among a diverse set of Bay Area image-makers.

Johanna, with Golden Gate Bridge tattoo, lies on the grass at Potrero del Sol skate park. | Courtesy Lisa Northcutt /@trifewife

“It's a love letter to San Francisco by the street photographers who are riding and walking the streets,” Adam said. “The unifying theme is their passion for photography, their passion for the city and their passion for their communities.”

A collection of vintage lowrider photos by photojournalist and filmmaker Lou Dematteis—showing the rise of lowriding culture in San Francisco during the 1970s through to its crackdown by then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein in 1980—anchors the show historically. Contemporary photos by Golden Gate Bridge photographer Jake Ricker and Market Street documentarian Troy Holden bring focus to what Adam describes as a modern golden age in San Francisco street photography. 

A candid shot from 1980 show friends driving during a lowrider cruise in the Mission. | Courtesy Lou Dematteis

Adam cites Ricker’s surreal snapshots of passersby on the Golden Gate Bridge as one of the most significant photography projects in San Francisco right now. Over the last five years, Ricker has not only documented the sights of the bridge daily but also prevented over 60 suicides as a regular watchman on the bridge. And Holden has been leading the way in SF street photography since 2015, Adam says. 

Candid photos of costumed or masked pedestrians moving along Market Street or against other iconic San Francisco backdrops highlight the be-who-you-want-to-be ethos of the city and nod to the Covid era.   

“That quirkiness has existed since the ’60s. It still exists in the city,” Adam said. “It’s such a melange of people and culture and tourists. [...] You shake it up; you don’t know what’s going to come out.”  

A rabbit-masked woman waits for the bus on Mission Street near the Alamo Drafthouse Theater. | Courtesy Noë Williams/@persimmontoastcrunch

Ultimately, Adam hopes that the exhibition is a reminder that as much as San Francisco has changed over the years due to tech and especially since Covid, its rich cultural mosaic and eccentric soul still remain—along with the artists who help to make it happen. 

“You read so much about the art scene and the galleries closing and people moving away. And it's our way of saying, ‘No, no, it's still here.’ The artists are still here,” Adam said. 

A closing reception for the show will be held from 3 to 7 p.m. March 11. Follow @capp_street on Instagram for updates about the show. 

Who Are We? 

📍1086 Howard St.
🗓️ March 4 & 5, 12 p.m.-3 p.m. & March 11, 12-7 p.m. 
🎟️ Free