Ted Pushinsky has been taking pictures in the streets of San Francisco since he moved here in the late 1960s. He’s been called the “elder statesman” of San Francisco street photography and he helped inspired a street photography renaissance in the early 2000s as part of the Hamburger Eyes photo collective.
Pushinsky’s upcoming show at the Juan R. Fuentes Gallery is a collection of his photos (mostly of the Mission District) taken over the last 30 years. San Francisco, and the Mission District in particular, have changed a lot during that time and Pushinsky has documented every stage of that transition. But to use his own phrase, Pushinsky is “no captive of nostalgia.” Comparing two photos he took on the corner of 24th and Mission streets—one in the 80s and one in the early 2000s—he said: “Those could be the same kids, the only thing that’s changed is the fashion.”
This show is composed mostly of your work in the Mission. What does this neighborhood mean to you and your photography?
When I was still a teenager, I lived in Mexico City and it was a real revelation for me, I was mad for it. I never wanted to close my eyes. Not too long after that, I moved to San Francisco and I moved into the neighborhood and, oh my God, I was back in Mexico.
When I’m in the Mission, I feel I’m in another country altogether. It’s part of what I love so much about it. I’ve been reading D.H. Lawrence recently and he writes: “How thankful one can be to be out of one’s country. I cannot believe myself. I am so transported the moment I set foot on a foreign shore, I say to myself, ‘here steps a new creature into life.’” Fortunately for me, I could get that feeling by leaving my house for five minutes and going down to 24th Street.
I’m mad for the Mission. It’s the place for me.
What are your thoughts on how the Mission has changed over the past few years?
I walk down the street now and there’s these chic barber shops where guys go in and get their beards trimmed and places where you buy a Carhartt jacket for $275. On the other hand, you can walk around the Mission and maybe not notice that—maybe. You can walk down several blocks of 24th Street and for the most part, the people in the street seem like the people who were always in the street.
What bothers me more than anything is that a lot of the people I know aren’t there anymore. I hate it, I do. I hate it. I’m not laying down in front of a Google bus, but I understand doing something like that.
Some of the more recent photos in the show are color, which is a departure for you. What informed the decision to start shooting in color?
The short answer, of course, is that I couldn’t print color because I never learned how. (laughs), but I grew up with black and white photography. I grew up with Life Magazine, which was primarily black and white photography. I grew up with the Family of Man show in New York in the mid-50s, which was black and white photography. That show revolutionized the way people looked at modern photography.
Black and white has a quality, there’s something beyond real about black and white photography as opposed to color photography. When I went digital I had the option: every time I took a photo it could be color or black and white. It can be whatever I want. And I started to appreciate some of the images as color images and I had no problem with it. I think it worked.
Can you talk about the Juan R. Fuentes Gallery and what it means to have a show there?
I look at the gallery and I say: “Wow. They’re there. Thank God they’re there.” If there’s a death of the Mission, well, it’s prolonged because we have them. This is the first time I’ll have a show of my Mission District photographs and it’s perfect that it’s in a place that’s the epitome of that community, that neighborhood. I’m thrilled about it.
Story by: Russell Morse