In the summer of 1964, San Francisco was ground zero for a historic culture clash as the site of the 28th Republican National Convention and the launch of the Beatles’ first North American tour. In the midst of the excitement, a young photographer new to the city was snapping pictures not of the politicians or musicians but of the people in the crowds and on the streets.
Arthur Tress, an accomplished American photographer best known for dreamlike staged compositions, produced more than 900 negatives in San Francisco during the spring and summer of 1964, which count among his earliest mature documentary work. Exulting in juxtapositions of the mundane and the absurd, Tress captured the chaos of civil rights demonstrations and political rallies, the idiosyncratic moments of the city’s locals, the peculiar contents of shop windows, a miscellany of odd signs, and much more. Devotees of street photography will find echoes of contemporaneous works by Robert Frank, Diane Arbus, and Garry Winogrand.
Tress developed and printed his black-and-white negatives in a communal darkroom in the city’s Castro district before departing San Francisco in the fall of 1964. The vintage prints were packed away in his sister’s house, coming to light again only in 2009. The rediscovery of this forgotten body of work inspired the photographer to revisit his early negatives, and Arthur Tress: San Francisco 1964 is the delightful outcome.
Published on the occasion of a major exhibition at the de Young, this striking volume highlights the series’ strongest prints as well as an assortment of contact sheets and archival materials selected in close collaboration with Tress. Featuring an insightful introduction by exhibition curator James A. Ganz and a conversation with the artist, the book is a remarkable document of the time and place in which the photographs were made, and a work of art unto itself.
James A. Ganz is curator of the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. His publications include Artistic San Francisco, Thirty-Six Views of the Eiffel Tower, and Impressionist Paris: City of Light.