By Kim Munson
Nashville photographer Tom Griscom will be returning to San Francisco this month to witness the culmination of a project seven years in the making. As a full time teacher and a busy editorial photographer, we are pleased that he can join us for the opening of the exhibition Dual Views: Labor Landmarks of San Francisco, a collaboration with photographer Wendy Crittenden, art historian Kim Munson, and the Labor Archives and Research Center at San Francisco State University. Inspired by the stories of labor strife found in LARC’s Labor Landmarks of San Francisco Guide Book, Wendy and Tom wandered the city like modern-day flâneurs, re-interpreting these sites through the lens of their dissimilar yet complementary styles. Tom’s black-and-white panoramas and Wendy’s skewed-color chromogenic prints show different views of the same locations, capturing traces of past and present, the ethereal and the tangible. The photographers consciously exclude people, focusing instead on ghosts of the past.
The exhibition situates San Francisco’s current tech boom and reinvention in the context of changes that have come before. The city has a history of new technologies disrupting established industries, from the invention of dynamite changing mining to shipping containerization breaking the grip of the powerful longshoremen’s unions, forcing a transition from a blue collar port city to the center of the knowledge economy.
Tom and Wendy used many techniques to bring this history to life in their work. Wendy’s work is square and precise, with natural and architectural forms reduced almost to abstraction, the colors contrasting sharply against a background of open sky. In her diptych bloody Thursday (2008), Wendy focused on overhead street car wires at the site where two strikers were fatally shot by police in 1934, saying that they reminded her of “bullets flying through the air.” Tom’s epic panoramas build on the classic California landscape tradition, drawing depth and meaning from light and atmosphere. His Red’s Java House 2 (2008), shows us a view seen by countless workers as they look up at the Bay Bridge from the popular lunch spot (opened in 1923).
“We struggle to keep place,” Wendy says, “but place is always in flux.” The photos are not an attempt to document these sites, but instead to comment on their evolution and the importance of memory and preservation. “In the end,” Tom observes, “What we choose to preserve, what we choose to repurpose and what we choose to forget is a testament to what we value as a society.”