R.I.P. Saul Leiter

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Saul Leiter passed away at the age of 89 this week. The American photographer, born in Pittsburgh, but a quintessential bohemian New Yorker was 89.

Leiter was one of the first street photographers to use color film beginning in the 1950s, but calling him a “street photographer” is giving him short shrift. Leiter was more like a painter with a camera. His images as grand as they may seem now (New Yorkers in the 1950s dressed well, men in fedoras, women in stockings and high heels) lack pretense. He shot off-center, vertically and kept those with the blurred subjects and reflections. In fact – that is the work that defined him. Snow, rain, fog, street lights, windows, mirrors and motion were his muses.

Read much more about Saul Leiter in this New Yorker piece.

Lou to Lou

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Singer Lou Reed passed away last month. It’s best to leave the tributes in words to those who have so eloquently delivered them before and who knew him best – his wife Laurie Anderson and creative contemporary Patti Smith.

Seems everyone with a social media outlet of a certain age or musical persuasion is coming out strong for Lou. Memories and playlists abound. I personally always admired Lou Reed more for his sense of style than his music. In the mid-1970s, it was kind of hard to exactly tell what gender Lou was (he was very thin and a lot of Greenwich Village lesbians emulated his biker cap and leather jacket look). He also dated a transwomyn named Rachel. I mean wow – just wow for a ready-to-identify queer kid from the suburbs.

Of course, I got into a little Lou Reed music over the years. I own a couple of CDs. A handful of iTunes downloads. There’s so much music out there, really. But how I discovered, or more to the point, rediscovered Lou Reed was with my iPhone. The first photo I took with my iPhone 3G in 2009 was of this poster of Lou plastered all over the Valencia Street Art Wall in San Francisco’s Mission District (left). I remember going out with my new phone one afternoon, not really sure how to work it and not giving any thought to the possibilities that might lie ahead – like Instagram.

Flash forward to late 2013. I’m walking around the Mission again on the night of the Day of the Dead. Just that afternoon, my new iPhone 5S arrived, but I’ve got plans for tonight and don’t even open the box. It’s my last wander around with my iPhone 4S and I come across this makeshift shrine paying homage to the recently departed Lou Reed (right). I snapped, edited and posted this shot to Instagram in about a minute.

And that was the last photo I took with that iPhone. R.I.P. Lou.

Photos by KazzaDrask Media.

Street Photography

Divisadero Corridor photo blog

San Francisco’s Divisadero Corridor is my neighborhood. I have been documenting its changes on since 2004.

The photo blog was conceived by San Francisco resident KT Drasky as a way to chronicle the changes in her neighborhood, originally through digital photography and later iPhoneography as it developed. “Just five or six years ago I would walk along the Corridor in the late afternoons and there would be no one around. Now all that’s changed.”

As the neighborhood gentrifies, Drasky has expanded the project to curate photos taken by others along the Divisadero Corridor, to obtain many perspectives to the change – both pro and con. In spite of wine bars, upscale groceries and award-winning restaurants, the Divisadero Corridor still clings to its rough exterior and continues to promote a healthy sense of community. “The best photos come about when the old and new intersect, capturing this unique time in a neighborhood’s history.”

Visit the Divisadero Corridor photo blog on Tumblr.

Photo credit: “The Divisadero Corridor, San Francisco’s Most Eclectic Neighborhood” by KT Drasky.

R.I.P. Ruth Dewson, The Mayor of Fillmore Street

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San Francisco businesswoman Ruth Garland-Dewson passed away on October 28 after a long illness. Ruth was a fixture on Fillmore Street, where she owned and operated Mrs. Dewson’s Hats since the 1970s.

While the hat business was good to her (and she to it – selling hats to Mayor Willie Brown and actors like Samuel L. Jackson and Sharon Stone), it was Ruth’s selfless acts and deeds, often generated from behind her desk at the back of the hat store that earned her the nickname “The Mayor of Fillmore Street.” Whether getting out in front of the 2008 Obama campaign or helping underprivileged girls and women, Ruth was a “force of nature” – a description of herself she absolutely loved.

Ruth was my neighbor here in the Western Addition of San Francisco, a neighborhood that is changing faster than Ruth could change hats. When I first moved here about 10 years ago, there was no Falletti’s, NOPA or $4 coffees and slices of toast. I found the Divisadero Corridor to be a strip of automotive repair shops and storefront churches and I wandered its wind-blown streets, usually in the late afternoon snapping photos.

It was on a morning in early February 2008, though, that I heard horns honking and a woman yelling down on Oak Street, and I grabbed my camera and ran outside. There was Ruth, waving an Obama sign and stopping only to say, “Who are you?” when I went to take her picture. She didn’t recognize me with my big camera in front of my face. But when I said, “Hey, Mrs. Dewson, it’s me – your neighbor,” she struck a variety of poses and I shot her in action. I ordered her some prints and dropped them through her door, and a few days later got a call. She was on her way to Beverly Hills to receive the Power of One award for her work in helping to free Flozelle Woodmore from an unjust prison sentence. Would I come along and photograph the event for her? We’d get to meet Academy Award-winner Halle Berry!

Over the course of the next year I’d work with Ruth as her publicist on a variety of different events, including the election of Barack Obama as our 44th President. “Go Obama, you’re black enough for me,” Ruth had said when the candidate was criticized by some in the African American community as not being true to his full heritage. We wrote a press release around that statement. And I loved hanging out with Ruth at the hat shop on election day, where she worked her old school push button phone, the Mayor of Fillmore Street in action.

Ruth became ill shortly after this and soon had to leave her home to move into an assisted care facility. She held onto the hat shop for awhile, making infrequent appearances behind her desk, but eventually had to sell the business and accept retirement.

In my own career, I have worked with a lot of interesting and talented people. But only one legend. R.I.P. Mrs. Dewson – you were indeed a force of nature.

Photo by KazzaDrask Media.