Photo Of The Day: Chinatown Squares
Exploring Chinatown in San Francisco, California.

Photo Of The Day: Chinatown Squares

Exploring Chinatown in San Francisco, California.

A couple of weeks ago I decided to take another walk around Chinatown with my camera. San Francisco’s Chinatown is not that big of a neighborhood, and many of the day-to-day scenes are similar if not downright the same. Once you’ve photographed Chinatown a few times, the images get fairly repetitious. But then, that’s where experimenting starts to come in – it’s where my experimental LAGTIME project was shot. Mostly the only thing that changes in that neighborhood are the faces of the tourists and the weather, which fucks with the lighting – the weather fucks with the lighting, not the tourists. Although, I have to say, there aren’t that many tourists there these days.

This day was particularly grey when I started out for the BART train to head into The City. Perfect for shooting. By the time I got there though, the sun was shining harshly and did not seem quite willing to participate in the day the way I had planned for when I set out.

On this day, I decided to challenge myself and set my camera mode settings to square and promised myself I would shoot the entire day in square mode. Subtle challenge. I know. Level achieved.

Chinatown seems to have gotten grittier over the years, especially over the pandemic years, as most of San Francisco has. Sure, there are a lot of touristy travely types of things to photograph there, but Chinatown is a real working neighborhood with grit and backbone and a lot of grime and a few shuttered storefronts.

I like to photograph in Chinatown because it’s a cultural neighborhood. I was going to say a multi-cultural neighborhood, but that isn’t the case. It’s a Chinese neighborhood. English is a second a language. I also like to photograph here because it is very old, by San Francisco standards, and a very colorful neighborhood.

Many people who walk through Chinatown walk up and down Grant Avenue and don’t explore the hidden corners. There is Stockton Street a block up the way, which gives off the air of one big Chinese food market, Then there are the alleys that run parallel on both sides of Grant that have much more interesting visuals and fewer people trying to get you to buy things. If you are really curious you can go looking for the tunnels that are rumored to exist underneath the buildings. Years ago a friend and I started our hunt over beers at the Buddha Bar one happy hour, but we didn’t get very far …

I found the woman sleeping on Beckett Street in front of a mural. A few months ago I visited the same spot and found the same mound of stuff, so I think she’s been living there for a long time. As a travel photographer, I often pass over these photographs. It’s not really what the travel industry wants to see – the homeless in the tourist areas. But as a person, with a camera, I think it’s important to document. Plus, in this particular image, I like the happiness of the mural in contrast to the person and her stuff.

You can look through the Chinatown Squares gallery HERE. It has a wider variety of images in it!

Kimberly Kradel

Artist, Writer, Photographer. Publisher of ARTIST-AT-LARGE.

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