David Wolf Photographs

Street Level has its genesis in an installation piece called Sundial. I was first drawn to the movement of sunlight and shadow passing through an enigmatic frame set within the textured plaster wall of a building opposite my home. As shadows formed and moved across the wall’s surface, the curious rectangle became the frame through which I photographed people passing along the sidewalk in front of me, seemingly caught within a moment of time. This parallel movement suggested the idea for Sundial, which was exhibited as two concentric circles of photographs: a continuous path of shadow circling the comings and goings of life on the street.

As I turned my attention to the people on the sidewalk, I was struck by their fleeting motion in contrast to the solidity of the wall behind them. I allowed the camera to gently blur their movement, emphasizing this contrast. Change versus constancy became the conceptual background for an extended series of pictures of people, Street Level.

Gradually I realized the apparent dichotomy of motion and stillness was misleading. I saw how the wall itself was changing, as graffiti, weather and gravity all left their mark. Ultimately, the frame that had grounded the series disappeared altogether when the building’s owners resurfaced the wall. Change revealed itself to be the only constant.

Street Level marks a turning point in my work when I first became interested in photographing people. Although the immediate subject differs from the blurred buildings of the preceding series, Transform/Transcend, it shares with it an architectural context in which the nuances of time and change are explored, and where movement is created to suggest a counter to the idea of permanence.

Street Level has served as a catalyst for several, related series in which I photograph people from a fixed vantage point over an extended period of time. Each one utilizes an architectural feature—a storefront awning, a wall of posters—to anchor a view of life on the street in a neighborhood facing the strains of significant social and economic change. All are part of a long-term body of work, I Remember the Mission, devoted to where I live in San Francisco’s Mission District.