Souls of San Francisco: Portrait Photography by Garry Bowden

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Garry Bowden is a filmmaker and photographer based in San Francisco, California. His current project, Souls of San Francisco, is a series of on-the-street portraits. There’s a freshness, depth, and immediacy to Garry’s work – perhaps owing to the fact that he’s been in San Francisco for five years – long enough to feel comfortable, yet recent enough to see how truly different the place and people are. He has made the series into a photo book with Blurb, and he’ll be launching it at 1015 Folsom as part of the SF Raw showcase on Wednesday, February 27, at 7:00 PM.

Blurb: What inspired the series?

Garry: I had a desire to connect more deeply with my community and make art that gave me instant gratification. My primary background is filmmaking which is much more collaborative and labor/time intensive so this has been a nice change of pace.

Blurb: How do you approach people and do you give them any specific direction?

Garry: I always approach people from the front so they can see me coming, look them in the eyes and give them a sincere compliment. Anything from, “You have beautiful eyes” to “I love your outfit.” People will often ask if they should do anything special and I tell them just to do what they feel. The only direction I give is to square their bodies to me and look directly into the camera.

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Blurb: How do you know when you see someone that they’re just right for the series?

Garry: I go off of instinct and intuition. When you walk around the streets you can definitely tell a difference between who is open and willing to be approached and who is in their own world. Sometimes if the person is super interesting I’ll work to get them to open up. That’s the fun part.

Blurb: Are there times when the portrait itself, for good or bad, just doesn’t turn out the way you thought it would?

Garry: Sometimes people are in too much of a hurry and I don’t get a good shot, where things are in focus and their eyes are really open and vulnerable. But, if they’re not in a rush I’ll just take a few until they are able to drop their mask. A lot of times the first picture is the best one.

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Blurb: Do you use a model release form?

Garry: Never used any forms, a photographer friend told me if you take a picture of someone in public then it’s public. I always ask permission first, tell them where it’s going and give them my card. There have been a couple instances where people asked me to take down pictures and that’s no problem.

Blurb: When trying to capture the denizens of a city as diverse as San Francisco, do you set out thinking you need to get certain types?

Garry:I try to be varied in my selection to get as many perspectives as possible but it’s funny to observe the patterns I fall into as far as who I ask for their pictures. You can see those patterns too if you follow the project.

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Blurb: I recently tweeted a quote from Abraham Lincoln that said, essentially, that there’s no such thing as a bad picture, it’s just the way you look sometimes. And people really seemed to respond to it. What do you think of that quote, in your experience with portraiture?

Garry: That resonates with me, it’s similar to the idea that there’s no such thing as bad art because really art is just an expression of that person’s consciousness so as long it represents who they are at the time it’s “good”. “Good” and “bad” are so relative though. When you say something is “good” or “bad” you’re really just giving your perspective and saying whether or not you like it.

Blurb: What did you learn about San Francisco in the process?

Garry: San Francisco is the most diverse, exciting place I’ve ever experienced. There’s an energy here that is completely unique and it’s created by all the awesome people that live here. Most of my friends now are people I’ve met on the street. We just get to talking and they invite me to join in on whatever they’ve got going on. People are super down to earth and open to sharing who they are and what they know. It’s beautiful.

Thanks, Garry! 

If you’re in the San Francisco area, head out to 1015 and meet Garry.

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