An interview with photographer Travis Jensen
Wordsearch is supporting real estate developer FivePoint as they seek to create a neighbourhood in what was once a run-down part of San Francisco. They’re creating two distinct places: Candlestick will be an authentic residential neighbourhood enriched by shopping, culture and outdoor space. Whilst Shipyard will be a working and living community that inspires, enriches and innovates.
To gain insight into the richness of the nearby Bayview community and to discover the families, the artists, the drag-racers and the baseball fans who live in the area, Wordsearch commissioned street photographer Travis Jensen to capture the atmosphere and discover what makes the community tick. The result was a set of extraordinary images which capture the area and billow with meaning and emotion. We spoke to Travis to find out his experience on the project and discover how he creates such evocative and candid photography.
What was working on The San Francisco Shipyard and Candlestick like for you?
There were times when it took me out of my own comfort zone which was cool, as a photographer that’s what makes us stronger, getting outside of your comfort zone like that. I love San Francisco and I think that really comes through in my images. I love that city and i’ve really covered all elements of that city from the bottom of the barrel to the top.
When did your interest in photography develop?
I grew up as a skateboarder, so i’ve been around cameras my whole life. We would film and shoot pictures of each other and I studied the skateboard magazines so I knew what made good skateboarding photos and good photographs. When I did get into photography I felt like I already had an advantage.
By that time i’d already been living in San Fran for 4-5 years and i’d seen so much craziness, I am convinced that San Francisco is the Lost City of Atlantis; it’s the most unique place. It has this really weird magical feel to it, there’s something very magical about that area. I don’t know what it is, but it attracts a certain type of person, people that are searching for things, to be a part of something.
How did you feel when we asked you to be involved?
When Wordsearch said “we want you to show us what Hunters Point is, what really makes this neighbourhood tick” I was like “cool” because that neighbourhood in particular is so rich in culture, so vibrant.
What was your strategy for taking photos?
People trust me, i’ve built up a really good reputation in the city and they know that i’d never put people in a situation where it’s embarrassing or makes them look bad. Everyone that steps in front of my lens is treated with dignity and the utmost respect, regardless of their situation.
What makes a good candid street scene?
If they involve multiple people in the frame, they’re difficult because you’re relying on all of the stars, and when I say stars I mean your subjects, to all be on that same wavelength temporarily. It’s hard to have 3, 4, 5 people in the frame and get a good shot where everyone’s layered correctly, all eyes are open, expressions are great; and that’s what I love about street photography, the difficulty of those types of images. I’m so used to shooting fast on the street where I literally have 20 seconds to frame, meter, fire. It’s hard, I would be bored if I was sitting in a studio all day, I like being in the mix, rolling up my sleeves, i’m a participant sometimes, people don’t even notice me, i’m just one of the homies.
What would your ideal subject look like?
My ideal subjects are those that you stumble upon in the street that are beautiful. I take a wabi sabi approach, nobody’s perfect, but we’re all beautiful. I’ve learned to embrace imperfection, that’s why I love working with real people as opposed to models. I love working with real people that are just like you or me, and capturing those really authentic expressions. I find beauty in imperfection.
What makes you press the shutter?
I can’t put my finger on it, but when I see, it I know it. There are many factors that come into play like the lighting, the moment, you just know when it’s right, you can’t predict it. Sometimes I can see it manifesting from a half of a block away, other times I see it happening right in front of me, like someone will do something really quickly and i’ll just happen to be ready, but I do photograph with a purpose though, everything I do and put out is very well considered. The most beautiful image in my opinion are those you need to look at for a minute. I really do believe that images are slowly but surely replacing the written word, I think about ways to engage my audience. Unconsciously our photographs are a representation of ourselves and who we are as people, I don’t care who it is, I really honestly believe that we are a reflection of what we photograph.
How did you take some of the candid street photographs?
A lot of the people that are in the photographs are well-known in the neighbourhood. Many are very candid, others I reached out to to ask if we could hang out. There’s people in there who are aspiring artists who are on the verge of making it big with their music careers.
I get asked everyday If I can put people in touch with the motorcycle guys. The motorcycles and the cars, that began in San Francisco and now it’s huge, everyone’s spinning their cars, but it came from the Bay Area. One thing which the development had done is bring new people together. Turf issues which used to be a problem in the past they don’t exist anymore, the neighbourhoods are happy with one another and it’s mostly through the bikes and the cars, they’re kind of like local celebrities. What you see really started in the Bay Area, it’s from San Francisco and Oakland and it’s gone worldwide. Something really specific to Hunters Point.
How did you get your start?
When I started I didn’t realise there was such a thing as street photography,I didn’t realise it was a genre, I was just shooting my environment. Here’s what I see all the time, i’m going to make a nice picture of it. It started off with me walking around with my camera not even aware what I was going had a name. Street photography is like boot camp for photography, it teaches you how to deal with people, how to get outside of our comfort zone how to deal with rejections, how to shoot fast, to make competing images on the fraction of a second. When I get into a situation when I can just shoot, it’s easy for me. I really got into looking for unique photos of the people of San Francisco, as well as the landscape, they’re beautiful in their own way. When i’m making images i’m looking for images that can’t be duplicated, like a rare baseball card. My approach is I don’t just want to collect photographs, i’m really looking for meaningful photographs. My favourite place to photograph is Excelsior or Tenderloin. San Francisco is literally magical.
How did you approach the editing process?
I’m not a black and white photographer, the reason why my San Francisco images are in black and white is because we have so much overcast that the lighting commands it. It’s really hard to pull colour out of the light in San Francisco, it’s can be very dreary. I think that me trying to out some of that in colour it wouldn’t have looked right, San Francisco has this Gotham feel to it, even though it’s very colourful, it looks equally good in black and white.
Posted on 16th October 2018 in Blog