In 1932, a handful of iconoclastic Bay Area photographers bucked photographic tradition with their collective, f/64. Named for the aperture on a large-format camera that provides the sharpest focus, f/64 was a reaction against the lingering hold of pictorialism on West Coast photography -- the idea that photos were art only if photographers used soft focus and darkroom manipulation to make their pictures mimic paintings. The f/64 shooters -- epitomized by Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, and Imogen Cunningham -- championed a view that considered the photograph a work of art in its own right. The group only lasted until 1935, but its influence redefined photography not only as an art form, but also as the art form of the modern age.
Today, that influence can still be felt in the Bay Area, where Ansel and Imogen first clicked their shutters, and it's celebrated at Photo San Francisco, the annual four-day photographic art exposition and celebration of all things emulsified, exposed, and enlarged. The exhibited work offers a comprehensive look at the art form, from 19th-century sepia prints to avant-garde multimedia installations, from Henri Cartier-Bresson's evocative black-and-whites to Judy Gelles' haunting colors.
Although more than 60 galleries from as far away as Düsseldorf and Havana exhibit their wares here, the show has a decidedly local appeal, with exhibitions of images from Burning Man, a showing from 10 photographers who worked under legendary San Francisco Art Institute teacher Minor White, and lectures by some of the most successful artists working in the region today, including aerial landscaper David Maisel, muted colorist Alec Soth, and nature enthusiast Mark Citret.
Reception admission is $75, and admission to other events runs $5-65
Other highlights are Harold Chapman's Beats à Paris and Billboards, print collections that document the rough-and-tumble Parisian years of writers such as William Burroughs, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Allen Ginsberg, and a lecture by renowned lensman Joel-Peter Witkin, whose nightmarish tableaux of battered bodies are as hard to look away from as a car accident. Visitors can also browse prints by the likes of Diane Arbus, Walker Evans, Man Ray, and a staggering list of other names that could have come right out of a photography textbook. And if you happen to win the lottery, there are pricey but momentous seminars on collecting as well as an opening night reception benefiting the Fort Mason Center Historic Preservation Fund.
Of course, you don't have to take any of the photos home to enjoy them. You only have to open your eyes -- and your mind. "Such a state of mind is not unlike a sheet of film itself," Minor White once said, "seemingly inert, yet so sensitive that a fraction of a second's exposure conceives a life in it." We get the picture.