San Francisco: Twenty Corner Markets and One in the Middle of the Block (1997)

Paula Chamlee

San Francisco happens to be another of my favorite places. When I was a stewardess for Delta, I had many layovers there and could explore the city alone or with other crew members. It was all quite exotic for me at the time, and I fell in love with the city. Decades later, when Michael and I traveled to the West Coast and spent time in San Francisco, we would often try to figure out how we could photograph there. Logistically, there is virtually no place to legally park your car if you want to photograph anywhere nearby. We always needed to have our photo truck nearby because the equipment is large and cumbersome and we needed assistants to not only help carry, but to guard the truck, or keep moving it in and out of illegal spots. On a trip in May of 1996, we finally made the time and commitment to photograph in the city and to arrange for some photo-student assistants.

I kept being drawn to marvelous views that required standing in the middle of the street looking down the wonderful expanse of steep urban hillsides. With the time-consuming and cumbersome set-up of an 8x10 view camera on a busy street and a blind hilltop, I could see myself ending up "dead center" literally. Instead, I made several fine photographs from locations where I could actually stand out of harm's way, but I was still longing for a subject that would be a consistent, and a somewhat conceptual series. There are no gardens and porches on the fronts of houses in the city, so one cannot see people in their home environment. But—there was something else that caught my eye that seemed very personal in each neighborhood—the family-owned corner markets with their distinctive San Francisco architecture. These were places where one could see people coming and going as if visiting a friendly neighbor. These small markets are quite different from the usual commerce within a big city. Because they are usually on corners, I figured I could stand directly across the intersection and be only partially in the way of traffic as I photographed them. An assistant became my body guard/traffic cop to help make this possible.

After returning home and to the dark room, I made proof prints in order to see which ones I wanted to print. When Michael saw my proofs, he was so smitten with what I had done that he said, "This should be a book! And here's the title—San Francisco: Twenty Corner Markets and One in the Middle of the Block." So, we published this book in 1997 in 550 signed and numbered copies. It sold out within a few years.
Though I have written quite a lot of text for all of my books, I wrote exactly two lines for this one:
As he walked out of the market, I asked, "Do they have good sandwiches here?"
He replied, "Sure do. This is the best little market in San Francisco."


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