It’s “HERE” — an exhibition of more than 700 photographs either of the Bay Area or taken by local photographers, and mostly both.
The exhibit at Pier 24, showcasing the work of 34 photographers in the huge and serene warehouse gallery directly below the Bay Bridge, is so varied in style and subject, time frame and frame of mind, that it defies any simple category. The photos are all about this place, somehow, but the dizzying array of images refracts rather than frames the place they celebrate.
Here are images of workers, bridges, earthquake and fire devastation, hippies, families, gangs, clubs, sex, guns, drugs, junkies, violence, bodies, buildings, teenagers, criminals, suburban subdivisions, downtown skyscrapers, car chases, more bridges, poverty, wilderness, ordinary and extraordinary life. Some were taken more than a century ago and others were taken mere months ago.
Richard Misrach is represented a few times over, including a room full of intimate black-and-white photographs of street youth culture around Berkeley’s Telegraph Avenue in the early 1970s, taken when he was 22.
The exhibit also features his huge panorama of the burned-out, ash-strewn hillside after the 1991 Oakland Hills fire and a pair from his large-scale “Golden Gate” series, which function as weatherscapes, reducing the iconic span to a mere footnote in the larger local drama of sky, water and light.
The Bay Area fascination with landscape that Misrach embodies in his later work is echoed throughout the expansive show, starting with the 19th-century work of Carleton Watkins and Eadweard Muybridge.
The most recent example is the work of John Chirara, a San Franciscan commissioned to photograph the Golden Gate and Bay bridges for the show using his custom-made camera on the back of his truck that produces one-of-a-kind positive images.
The focus on the local natural world is paired in the show by the examination of the inhabitants of that land and how they live — natives and immigrants, hipsters, ball players, lost souls, gang members, newcomers, old timers, the celebrated and the marginalized.
Selections from Jim Goldberg’s “Raised by Wolves” series depicting the harsh lives of runaway teenagers in San Francisco in the 1990s offers a dark contrast to Misrach’s photos of street youth from a generation before.
At the heart of the show is a room of resplendent images from Larry Sultan’s “Homeland” series, which he was working on when he died in 2009. These photographs marry the prerogatives of landscape and portrait photography, depicting the Mexican day laborers he hired to populate open spaces around local suburbs,
The “Homeland” photos echo many of the images in the Pier 24 show, offering a slightly unsettled and dizzying view of what it might mean to belong to a place, to borrow a place, to try to feel at home, to consider oneself fully “HERE.”
IF YOU GO
Where: Pier 24 Photography, Pier 24, The Embarcadero, San Francisco
When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, by appointment only; closes Dec. 16
Tickets: Admission is free
Contact: (415) 512-7424, www.pier24.org