Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Works of Charity . . .

The Bay School, 2006 by Charity Vargas

"The night is my companion,
and solitude my guide.
Would I spend forever here,
and not be satisfied?"
- Sarah McLachlin

Released just last month, "The Presidio: Portraits of a Changing Landscape" by Charity Vargas is a beautiful, 116 page hardcover "coffee table" book. Comprised of 58 B/W plates that depict the site's historical, natural, and cultural location - including both vintage naming conventions, as well as current reuse names to convey the sense of transformation that is taking place in San Francsico's very own National Park.

Ms. Vargas' work, this portrait of the Presidio, first came to my attention when she was in a NPy class (Fall 2006) I taught at the University of California, Berkeley Campus. There, immersed as we were, in a similar landscape of history, cultural impact, and the 'natural' world ("controlled wildness" as she calls it) our group looked over some initial work prints of images she had done at night in the Presidio. We critiqued politely, pointing out future directions to go, asking questions about where she thought the project should go, etc.

Now - in full disclosure - I'm a big fan of the Presidio (as well as Ms. Vargas) - I have been photographing and doing business there from a time when it was an active, 'open base" and I still find myself there on various errands, etc. - at least once-a-week. In fact, I remember escorting one of Steve Harper's Academy of Art NPy classes there in the early 80s, when a few members of our party (for that was what they tended to be, back in the day . . . ) were held and "interviewed" by half a dozen MPs - even in a pre 9/11 world, it was a very dicey endeavor to run around with camera gear on a military base! But, "No harm done - just look alive!"

Charity's work in the Presidio, as viewed in this remarkable text, represents what my earlier attempts to photogrpah there at night could only approach. As a resident of the park, she's able to deliver a sustained, thoughtful, and reverential portrait of a landscape in transition. I think I've had similar good fortune with the work that I've done on Mare Island recently, in a similar situation. About the closest I've come to presenting such an intimate, yet comprehensive view of the Presidio in this transformative state was an art exhibit which I curated for the Presidio Alliance (a base reuse "watchdog" group, now defunct). "Presidio Nocturnes" (2001) featured the work of 25 artists, who utilized NPy as a means to show some of the transformations occurring on the base at the time. The lyrics quoted at the opening of this Blog were part of the Curator's Statement for the exhibit, as well as this: "These images sing of transformation. The drab, industrial mixed-use areas of the Presidio are transformed here into something magical, beautiful, just as the Presidio itself is changing daily, turning swords into plowshares." (Read full text

Anyway - back to Charity's book (I tend to go long-winded in terms of topics like this!) - I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the Presidio (or other reuse projects), Night Photography, or current B/W Photography. Particular highlights for this reviewer:
Plate 1 - Late Night at the Internet Archive, 2006
Plate 40 - The Presidio Golf Course, 2006
Plate 55 - Candlelight Tour of Fort Point, 2006 - you can view these and all the images at the book's
Web site - information about where you can purchase the book is also included - and you can purchase thru the Books Section of The Nocturnes Web site, as well.

What amazes me still, is that while I recognize the locations, I never really saw them "that way!" Charity's emphasis on the trees, the structures and the shadows of the former military post is cinematic, at times almost, "noir."

The fact that just by viewing the images in Charity's book, can bring back these fond memories of a place we could have easily called home (the ashes of our first Golden Retriever, Olwen are scattered in one of the forests there - just one of many links to this place in time) is a testament to Charity's ability to capture the essence of this amazing "timescape."

("This ain't off-limits, anymore . . .")

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