Laguna Dolores (Albion Street)
mixed media photo collage on board, 10”x8”
When making art about the passage of time, it might be necessary to let some time pass yourself. This year, as I started creating the pieces for this new series of Time Travel Photos, I began to understand that my own process began decades ago.
My story started the summer I was nine years old. It was when I saw sand dunes for the first time. The moment of that experience of seeing dunes, in person, for the first time, sticks with me decades later. It was at a place called Sandy Neck that I would learn to love as a teenager. That vacation alongside a salt marsh was just a glimpse of what was to come. In a few years my family left the city and we moved to Cape Cod. We lived near the beach and next to a salt marsh. That was the time when I really began to appreciate nature and also learned the vital role that marshes play in marine ecosystems.
Fast forward to life in San Francisco. It is a city like many cities, especially the coastal ones, where the natural environment was radically altered to allow the city to grow. Creeks and waterways were blocked, land was leveled and even hilltops were removed. Marshes and tidal flats were filled in to expand San Francisco out into the Bay. As I learned more about San Francisco’s history, I learned about the hidden coast that was beneath the streets. I spent years working in offices in Jackson Square and the base of Potrero Hill. Places that are blocks from the shore but where, at one point in time, the high tide reached the spots where the buildings now sit.
I was sitting outside eating my lunch one day in 1998, I was near the old Trans Bay Terminal and I had, for lack of a better word, a vision. I started visualizing this busy spot between office buildings and what it must have been like about 200 years back. I thought about when the Spanish had just arrived and the place had changed little since the Ohlone made it their home. I imagined a quiet place with the smell of the tide, dense vegetation and wildlife. I started to wonder about how I could turn this vision, this idea, into art.
Then, in 2011, I carried out a different type of project about time. The 2011 Project was one where I made a small, four-inch square, piece of art each day for the entire year. The 365 pieces focused on different themes and ideas and I experimented with a number of styles and mediums. The series was intended as both a time capsule of my work as well as something akin to a sketchbook for future work. There was one particular photo collage that I loved the instant it was finished.
Back in the summer of 2011 I did what would be first Time Travel Collage (shown above). In the Mission, on Albion Street, there is an historic plaque commemorating the site of the first mission that was on the shores of a small lake. I took photos of the street that I then cut up and layered with photos of a similar lake with a marshy shore. We are fortunate to live in the Bay Area where so much of the natural world remains accessible, intact and close by. With this first piece, I was able to show both the now and the then (or at least a reasonable representation of the then).
It took until 2016, but now I have been able to focus my attention on creating a series of time travel photos that capture the present but remind us of the past, the land and life that was there before the city.