Reflecting Upon The Cool Grey City of San Francisco (Photo Essay)

The winds of the Future wait

At the iron walls of her Gate,

And the western ocean breaks in thunder,

And the western stars go slowly under,

And her gaze is ever West

In the dream of her young unrest.

Her sea is a voice that calls,

And her star a voice above,

And her wind a voice on her walls—

My cool, grey city of love.

– – – – George Sterling.

“San Francisco,” Gary Kamiya writes in his book, Cool Gray City of Love: 49 Views of San Francisco, “is all about the collision between man and the universe.”

What a wonderful description of the city on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. It’s been over a month since I was last in San Francisco. And I’m actually pine-ing to go back.

Luckily, one of my “new years resolutions” this year was to take more film photos. As I miss the physicality of film that you don’t get with digital. The way you can never ever be sure of how the images will come out. Too many variables. Did I put the film in properly? I didn’t keep the film chill, it’s out of date, it went through the xray scanner in security loads of times, the lens, the grain, the light, the light metre, the developing process, the scanning… A good chunck of it all up to the film-gods. A lot out of our control. 24-36 different potential chances. Remembering what you took a photo of too, is also part of that delayed process surprise!

This trip I took a really (too heavy) heavy Leicaflex SL2 35mm Camera. A bargin I bought off ebay during lockdown. I’d only put 1 roll of b&w film through it previously to check that it worked. I took it with half a roll of cinestill 800 already exposed. It was a heavy camera to carry about. But I loved the grain it gave and made photos look almost like drawings. I don’t know what pocessed me to take this instead of a simple point & shoot, like my Olympus Trip 35, or my ye-old-faithful Olympus OM-1. No, I took this weight with me instead.

SF is a challenge and chalice from a visual standpoint. As a photographer, I struggle to decide: Should I ignore the manmade and instead look to gifts of the gods? Or should I embrace the outcomes of human ingenuity? There is an abundance of both in the city of seven hills. My phone camera reel is just photos and video of the incredible plants that grow across the city. So I wanted the film camera to be different.

A poem by George Sterling inspired Kamiya’s book title, so I am took a cue from both of them. When I was in SF – There was a rolling fog that made everything overcast, pinky or blue gray. I leaned into it by using black & white & cinestill 800 film roll when there. To capture the cool gray and blues views of the city, and it is my way of telling its visual story. I focused a lot on the beach – in part to capture the ineffable sand dunes envrionment and peace and energy. Another part for a surfing zine I’m making.

It has ended up combined with what I love most about SF and beach/surfy photography — silence, fog, abstraction, and an opportunity to wander. The essence that has come out from these are what I call “dreamy grays.”

Ironically, I have been on the journey for a while; but I didn’t realize it. A small selection of images below are digital b&w but 98% of them are from the heavy beast camera. I hope you enjoy the grain – a mirror of what SF is all about. built on the ever rolling sand-dunes, and the ever-present beauty of rolling fog.

Glad to be re-living some of this SF adventure, 1 month later. Thanks to the joys of film!


Published by smizz

Artist → Re-evaluating life→ Rad Oncology graduate + public health worker→ @lab4living PhD-er → Want 2 make a positive difference → Rule-Breaker → LIVE DRAWZ! → councillor! → Loves cities → rides fixie → adventures → wanna be ramen master → <3 Tokyo + NYC

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: