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Photography masterpieces in San Francisco

Photography masterpieces in San Francisco

Pier 24 Photography, a landmark photography museum in San Francisco, is celebrating its tenth anniversary. Home to the Pilara Foundation Collection, Pier 24 brings together the greatest names in photography, past and present, from Diane Arbus to Henry Wessel.

As a result of directives from the authorities in each country, most exhibitions are suspended, postponed or cancelled. We decided to publish the articles about them anyway, especially when we could see them before they closed. For more information on our editorial line during this period, you can read our editorial here.

Henry Wessel, Incidents No.16, n.d. © Henry Wessel, courtesy Henry Wessel Studio

Isolated on a white picture rail, this iconic early-twentieth-century image launches a chapter in the history of photography which covers everything from social documentary to portraits of marginalized people. Her stern face framed in a black scarf, her misery is condensed to a sign hanging round her neck like a reductive label or a death sentence: “Blind.” More than ever this word resonates in photography, compelling us to reflect on what and whom we see or don’t see. On that particular day in 1916, Paul Strand trained his lens on society’s invisible people whom photographers have been showcasing ever since. 

The visitor is thus invited to discover Diane Arbus’s series created in 1970–71 in a psychiatric asylum in the United States. Here, too, people who are almost never seen are brought to light by the photographer. “I really believe there are things nobody would see if I didn’t photograph them,” said Arbus. In a similar vein, eight years later, Richard Avedon decided to focus on coal miners in Wyoming: soot-covered faces contrast with the white backdrop of the studio. 

Strolling from one photograph to the next, the visitor is transported across ages and borders, encountering Pieter Hugo’s 2009 pictures of Ghana right next to Henry Wessel’s California of 1985. The arrangement of the photographs is daring as it defies chronological and aesthetic conventions. Bringing together masters of portraiture under one roof, Pier 24 testifies to the diversity of the medium and the plurality of the photographic gaze. 

Pieter Hugo,Yaw Francis, Agbogbloshie Market, Accra, Ghana, 2009 © Pieter Hugo, courtesy of the artist

Alec Soth, Charles, Vasa, Minnesota, 2002 © Alec Soth, courtesy of the artist

Dorothea Lange, Migrant Mother, NipomoCalifornia, 1936 © Dorothea Lange
Richard Learoyd, Jasmijn, away from the Light, 2008 © Richard Learoyd, courtesy of the artist and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse © Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse,courtesy of the artists and Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg

By Coline Olsina & Jean-Baptiste Gauvin


July 1, 2019 – May 31, 2020

Pier 24, San Francisco

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