Picture This: Family Photographs of Everyday San Francisco

Topic: Culture Subtopic: General

Case Study

of an Exhibition

by Penny Jennings

Published on April 19, 2007

  • Description and goals

    This exhibition drew from a collection of photographs shared with the San Francisco Public Library by community members from the Western Addition, Ocean View/Merced/Ingleside (OMI), Mission and Sunset neighborhoods. On Shades of San Francisco Photo Days, library staff, volunteers, and professional photographers copied photos from the family collections of local residents which recorded their daily lives as well as the cultural, historical, and political contributions of these neighborhoods. In both the gallery exhibition and the associated Online Exhibition the library shared/s approximately 150 of the photographs from the Shades of San Francisco project.

  • Development process and challenges

    Most of the work was done by the time I got involved—the heavy lifting included organizing, publicizing and facilitating the Photo Days at the branch libraries in four different neighborhoods. On Shades of San Francisco Photo Days, library staff, volunteers, and professional photographers copied photos from the family collections of local residents which recorded their daily lives as well as the cultural, historical, and political contributions of these neighborhoods. Since the inception of the Shades project, the library has collected over 1,400 photographs from different ethnic communities and neighborhoods. These images have been added to the Library¬ís extensive archives, an important resource for scholars, students, and the general public.

    The hardest task for the exhibition team was choosing only 200 photos to print and mount. Themes jumped out at us: kids on ponies, people at work, families posed in front of the new car, or getting ready for weddings. The photos span at least 100 years and represent some of the most ethnically diverse neighborhoods in San Francisco. We wanted to include many more than we had the budget to reproduce, and spent at least triple the time we’d alotted for photo selection.

  • Lessons learned, mistakes we made (and what we did about them)

    The title of the exhibition should have included the words “Shades of San Francisco” since that is how the project is commonly known. Despite quite a bit of enthusiasm and publicity, many project participants didn’t realize their family photos were in the gallery show. The online exhibition is making up for it—the website is an easy to access, lasting record of many of our favorites.

  • Exhibition Opened: September 2005

  • Traveling Exhibition: No

  • Estimated Cost: Less than $100,000 (US)

  • Size: 1000 to 3,000

  • Other funding source(s): Los Angeles Public Library and Durfee Foundation, the California State Library, the San Francisco History Center, and the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library

  • Website(s):  http://www.sfpl.org/news/onlineexhibits/shades/

Latest Comments (1)

Great photos

by Jim Spadaccini - April 23, 2007

Penny,
What a great collection of photos. It’s funny how photographs from yesteryear can make you feel a bit home sick. We lived in the Western Addition for 15 years—well after most of these photographs were taken, but they still stir up memories of our own SF experiences.

Sounds like it was fun project to work on.

Jim

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