PRINT January 1965


Our San Francisco at the San Francisco Museum of Art

EVERY YEAR, AT CHRISTMAS TIME, competing with the expen­sive publications of glossy reproduc­tions of the paintings of Botticelli and the inevitable volumes of carefully-­diagrammed instructions for cooking just like Escoffier in your own kitchen­ette, there is, of course, a book about San Francisco. From this year’s ex­ample, “Our San Francisco,” published by Diablo Press, the San Francisco Mu­seum of Art is showing ten photographs by each of the five photographers whose work is included, Ernest Braun, Jacqueline Paul, Michael Bry, Jerry Stoll, and Phiz Mozesson. The book’s text is by San Francisco writers, Har­old Gilliam, Herb Caen, Art Hoppe, Ken­neth Rexroth, and Ralph J. Gleason.

Each photographer’s work illustrates one aspect of the city’s life: Braun, Shapes of the City; Paul, The Work­ing Day; Bry, The Bay; Stoll, Night; and Mozesson, We Live Here. Each photographer has worked out in his own fashion the challenge of his assignment.

Braun’s eye is by far the most origi­nal. His compression of California Street and one of the towers of the Bay Bridge into a flat, unlikely pattern by setting his tripod at the intersection of Gough and California Streets and photographing with a 400-mm. lens is a splendidly imaginative use of the camera. The tight expression of the man passing the Chinese market de­lightfully repeats the withered contours of the cooked duck hanging in the window. Chinese onions with their Chi­nese price tag make a simple abstract pattern. Ladies in floppy, flowered hats are a soft setting for a full Martini glass with an olive speared with a tooth­pick. Braun sees through his camera, and his prints speak meaningfully.

In contrast, Miss Paul, in these pho­tographs, as in her essay on Japan shown last year at the Legion of Hon­or, sees the caption in the bottom of her viewfinder as she presses the shutter. When the photographs are uncaptioned, as they are here, the viewer suffers.

Bry’s lead photograph, gulls with a fishing boat and the setting sun, has a poetic intensity unfortunately absent from the rest of his work, which is, as a whole, obvious and pedestrian. Children build sand castles, men stop to examine a large fish on the sidewalk, but the viewer is not made to care.

Stoll’s photographs of night reveal little of the imaginative sensitivity of the best of his work, such as the hand­some display illustrating the United Crusade Activities in the Bay Area, shown about a year ago in the lobby of the Zellerbach Building. The child running through the empty benches in front of the bandstand in Golden Gate Park and the old man and boy slog­ging home along Ocean Beach convey the urgency of approaching night. But the sailor studying the pictures in front of the girlie film house and the sad­faced Negro pianist with the wisp of cigarette smoke have been photo­graphed at least once too often. Chil­dren are photographed through a win­dow, but one hardly sees their faces because such a large box of Epsom Salts in the lower lefthand corner com­petes for attention. A photograph of a mother and child, almost Madonna-like, is so brutally cropped on one side that the mood is not serene but unpleasant. The Stoll of these photographs is, in general, such a different photographer than the Stoll of the United Crusade display that one suspects uneasily that the United Crusade Stoll might be the creation of the art director.

Mrs. Mozesson’s usually penetrating sympathy for the complexities of in­terpersonal relationships seems to be missing in the current exhibit, and we are left with platitudes: little child against big tree; lost child comforted by policeman; child greets daddy com­ing home from work. A photograph of two little girls playing at their father’s feet as he lies on the bed and watches them with affection and amusement seems more typical of Mrs. Mozesson’s seeing, relaxed and understanding.

Margery Mann