You ever come across a vintage San Francisco photograph that gives you gasps, goosebumps and throbs of nostalgic fascination? There will be an entire gallery of photographs like that at the upcoming exhibit “Fifty Years of San Francisco Street Photography, 1965-2015”, opening Thursday, May 14 at the Mark Wolfe Contemporary Art Gallery with a reception from 5:30-8 p.m. Many of these images by longtime local photogs Ted Pushinsky and Maury Edelstein have never been seen before publicly, but SFist has a little sneak preview of a few of them. The whole exhibition will be packed with pictures that will have you historically immersed, candy flipping on nostalgia, and saying ‘Oh my god, that’s what that used to be?’
Readers familiar with SFist’s Photo du Jour series are likely fans of Troy Holden, one of the leading street photographers in SF who helped curate the exhibit. Holden is one of our greatest street photographers, but Maury Edelstein and Ted Pushinsky are the elder statesmen of the craft. “One photographer is 84 and has been shooting Chinatown, Financial District, and Union Square for 50 years in color,” Holden told SFist. “The other photographer is 68 and has been shooting the Mission District and South of Market for 40 years in black and white. The photographers had never met before this event.”
Many of the photos show the seedy underbelly of San Francisco over the decades — Financial District shoeshine guys in the 1980s, Chinatown butchers covered in animal blood, and candid street shots of strippers taking cigarette breaks. But Edelstein’s work occasionally captured some famous people, like the SF Twins Marian and Vivian Brown and singer Tony Bennett.
Edelstein recalls the chance encounter that led to getting the Tony Bennett shot. “I was at the Helmsley,” he told SFist. “They always played Frank Sinatra in the lobby. I love Frank Sinatra, and I told the concierge, ‘I love Frank Sinatra but what about Tony Bennett?’ He said ‘That’s a good idea. I’ll check with the management’. I walked out of hotel and there’s Tony Bennett.”
Image: Ted Pushinsky, “Fifty Years of San Francisco Street Photography, 1965-2015”
Another celebrity featured in Ted Pushinsky’s work is legendary stripper Carol Doda, who coincidentally was acquitted 50 years ago today after her arrest for topless dancing. “I have a nice shot of Carol Doda being lowered onstage on the piano that will be in the show,” Pushinsky said. (Doda’s famous breasts are fully on display in the shot.) “At that time, I was working for a lot dance groups in the city. A lot of the women that were modern dancers, jazz dancers — several of them would get work in the topless clubs. That’s how they would make their living. I knew a lot of the women and I came in as friends and family. They had no ban on taking pictures.”
One of the most stunning aspects of this exhibit is its reflection of the enormous and disruptive cultural changes the city has experienced over the last 50 years. But paradoxically, the exhibit also shows that San Francisco’s underbelly hasn’t changed much at all. These cultural changes also show in the technology used to take the photos.
Image: Maury Edelstein, “Fifty Years of San Francisco Street Photography, 1965-2015”
“For the last 7 years or so, I’ve been shooting with a digital camera and I’m going to have that in the show as well as some photographs that go back close to 40 years,” Pushinsky said. “So it should be interesting to see those on the wall at the same time. I haven’t done that before.”
Mixing black & white and color photography and depicting an incomparable cast of real-life hustlers, carnies and sailors on leave, ““Fifty Years of San Francisco Street Photography” is a must-see exhibit for both history nerds and photography nerds. The opening reception is May 14, and the show remains on display Tuesdays-Saturdays through June 26 at the Wolfe Contemporary Gallery.