Category Archives: Photography

Posts featuring my photography

ReclaimMLK in the Fillmore

[Image: Activists march in the street carrying a banner reading “Dear Ed Lee, We Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere. Sincerely, Bayview, Mission & Fillmore”]

This weekend, activists throughout the country are holding events to reclaim the radical legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., with 96 hours of direct action. I attended one such event on Friday in San Francisco’s Fillmore district, one of our rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods where black folks are being displaced from their homes. Though when I arrived I was only expecting speakouts and music, the event turned into a march that took over the streets.

Music at Coltrane Church[Image: Musicians perform at Saint John Coltrane Church.]

Archbishop King playing sax[Image: Archbishop King plays the saxophone at Saint John Coltrane Church.]

We gathered at Saint John Coltrane Church. I’m a jazz lover, and I think it’s awesome to have a church where the archbishop plays the saxophone. (This is no gimmick; the legendary musician John Coltrane is actually a saint.) While I’m an atheist, I’m not an anti-theist; I’ll happily cooperate with religious organizations and individuals as long as they’re not trying to convert me or tell me I’m going to hell.

Etecia Brown of Last 3% of Black SF[Image: Etecia Brown of Last 3 Percent of Black SF speaks into a microphone.]

ReclaimMLK speakers[Image: Activists at ReclaimMLK event, wearing shirts reading “The Movement for Black Lives” and “Justice for Alex Nieto”]

Speakers at the event included representatives from the Anti Police-Terror Project, Last 3 Percent of Black SF, and the Justice for Alex Nieto Coalition. Cause Justa :: Just Cause was also there, providing Spanish translation. While anyone who doesn’t look white (or straight, or cisgender) is a potential target for police violence and housing discrimination, this night’s action focused on the impact on black and brown lives.

Homes for people, not for profit[Image: Activists in the street hold signs reading “Evict Ed Lee” and “Homes for people, not for profit. ACCE: Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment“]

Last 3 percent[Image: An activist in the street wearing a shirt reading “Stay Black” holds a sign reading “Last 3 Percent.”]

ReclaimMLK street action[Image: Activists holding signs and raised fists block traffic at the intersection of Webster and Geary Blvd, San Francisco.]

Following the speakers and music, attendees took to the streets, eventually holding space during rush hour at the busy intersection of Webster and Geary Blvd. One angry white man asked “Do you people even have a permit?” San Franciscans expect their marches to be scheduled and orderly. But social change requires inconvenience.

Activist at ReclaimMLK march[Image: An activist at the ReclaimMLK action raises their fist in the air.]

I was nervous about police harassment once I realized we’d be taking over the intersection, but I did not personally witness any incidents. The police escorted us as we marched back to the church. I spoke with one of the organizers then, thanking him for mentioning transgender and gender non-conforming people in his talk at the start of the event.

My full set of photos from the event is available on Flickr. Please credit Pax Ahimsa Gethen if you use any of them. A videographer I met at the church made a video of the event; I can be seen in the background (wearing a purple jacket and black beret) of several shots:

I’m very glad I attended this action. Tomorrow, I’ll be marching in Oakland for the culmination of the 96 hours of direct action. I was pleased to learn that the march will have a transgender contingent, hosted by the TGI Justice Project and TAJA’s Coalition. I hope many of my fellow activists are able to attend.

Celebrating trans resilience in San Francisco

[Image: San Francisco City Hall, lit in the pink and blue colors of the transgender pride flag.]

Last night I attended a Transgender Day of Remembrance event at the San Francisco LGBT Community Center. While the ongoing murders of trans people motivated the creation of the TDoR, this occasion was both solemn and uplifting, with numerous musical performances as well as speakers.

BAAITS at TDoR SF
[Image: Bay Area American Indian Two-Spirits drum and chant at the Trans Day of Remembrance, SF.]

Donna Personna at TDoR SF
[Image: Donna Personna performs at the Trans Day of Remembrance, SF.]

StormMiguel Florez at TDoR SF
[Image: StormMiguel Florez plays guitar and sings at at the Trans Day of Remembrance, SF.]

Several spoke to the need for trans people to stop infighting and pull together. One read from a letter she’d just received from President Obama, honoring the Trans Day of Remembrance and speaking positively about trans and gender non-conforming people.

CeCe McDonald at TDoR SF
[Image: CeCe McDonald speaks at the Trans Day of Remembrance, SF.]

The keynote speaker was CeCe McDonald, a last-minute replacement. She referred to the aforementioned letter, expressing the same skepticism as I was thinking myself, with one of my favorite phrases of the evening: “We need more than a letter.” Another speaker also echoed my thoughts with another favorite quote: “Fuck tolerance! I don’t need you to tolerate me.”

I’m glad I attended this event, which gave me hope that outspoken trans activists can overcome the hurdles to receiving the full equality we deserve. As usual, I’ve uploaded the full set of photos to Flickr.

Russian Hill walking tour

[Image: A discolored street sign reading “Russian Hill 000”, with a hedge and tree in the foreground and a house in the background.]

While looking for potential events to photograph this week, I came across a group of free San Francisco walking tours being offered on Veterans Day. Reading the descriptions, and having already visited the Japanese Tea Garden and Coit Tower numerous times, I decided the only remaining tour that might interest me was of Russian Hill, the neighborhood abutting my own, (S)Nob Hill. The City Guide description promised “panoramic views and intimate lanes… artists and eccentrics, Beats and Bohemians, mansions and cottages.”

Russian Hill view
[Image: Scene from atop a steep Russian Hill street.]

Unfortunately, as it turned out, I’m just not that interested in architecture, which was the dominant theme of the tour. I listened with some interest to stories of Jack Kerouac (who stayed briefly in a home we passed by) and other notable residents, but I had little interest or success in photographing the actual buildings. I was more intrigued by some of the non-human residents of the neighborhood:

Caterpillar
[Image: A caterpillar rests on a cobweb-covered metal structure.]

It eventually occurred to me that this was basically a tour about cishet white people. Our group was largely white as well; perhaps three out of the fifteen or so appeared to be Asian, and no one besides myself was brown-skinned. This shouldn’t have been much of a surprise, and back when I was still performing whiteness, I probably wouldn’t have even noticed. But I’m now much more attuned to race and gender issues.

Macondray Lane
[Image: A wooden gate reading Macondray Lane, nestled among trees.]

The capper was at the conclusion of the tour, we walked up the steps of Macondray Lane, the inspiration for Barbary Lane from the famous Tales of the City series. Our tour guide mentioned the series’ origin as a serial in the San Francisco Chronicle before it became a  book series, later a TV series, and a musical – all of which I read, watched, and very much enjoyed. And somehow he managed to completely omit that these notable books were written by an openly gay man, Armistead Maupin, were primarily about queer people (including a trans woman), and were among the first to address the AIDS epidemic.

I do not accuse our tour guide or San Francisco City Guides of any malice or even deliberate exclusion here. This simply wasn’t the right kind of event for me. I’m sure with some effort I could find an “underground San Francisco” style tour, that would talk more openly about the elements of this city that I can connect with better.

Regardless, I’m not sorry I attended. I met and chatted with a nice couple from Berkeley, and gave them the first of my new business cards when they asked about my blog. I also got some needed exercise; early November in San Francisco is a beautiful time of year, with perfect walking weather before the steady rains of winter arrive.

The few photos from this tour that I felt were worthy of posting are on Flickr. I’ll look for future events that are more suited to my photographic skills and personal taste.

Día de los Muertos

[Image: A child with their face painted and an adult sit in the dark, holding candles.]

Last night I attended a Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) event in the Excelsior district of San Francisco. This was a family-oriented gathering, meant to honor and respect the dead. Many children were present, and activities for them included face painting and crafts.

Face painting
[Image: An adult paints the face of a child, who is wearing colorful clothing and flowers in their hair.]

Some kids were also walking around on stilts!

Stilt walkers at Día de los Muertos
[Image: Children on stilts walk outdoors, with adults watching.]

A number of altars were set up around the playground where the event was held. Read the story of Alex Nieto, a Latino victim of police violence, featured in this altar. There’s a press conference regarding his case tomorrow.

Día de los Muertos altar
[Image: A Día de los Muertos altar, featuring a framed drawing of Alex Nieto.]

One of my primary interests in attending was watching and photographing the native ceremony and dance. Unfortunately, as the event took place after sunset and the available light was extremely limited, I was unable to get many decent photos once the performance started. This was disappointing, as low-light photography is my specialty, but I won’t use flash for performances.

Día de los Muertos drummer
[Image: A drummer in native costume practices at a Día de los Muertos event.]

Ironically, the last time I photographed a Día de los Muertos event, in San Jose in 2010, the strong noon sunlight also made photography a challenge. But light at least makes photography possible, and I got many good photos then.

Despite the logistical challenges (aside from the darkness, I got lost getting to the location, which was in an unfamiliar neighborhood), I felt empowered attending this event, which had a strong representation of people of color. The face of San Francisco is not white, despite what you might guess from the saturation of tech companies and premium housing. More than half of us are PoC. We cannot allow gentrification to continue to force us out, wipe out native cultures and traditions.

As usual, I’ve uploaded the full set of photos to Flickr. If you like my work, please consider sponsoring me on Patreon or leaving me a tip. Thanks to my sponsors, I’ve met my first milestone goal, and now have new business cards. I only need another ten dollars a month in donations to meet my second goal: Expanded disk storage, which is greatly needed if I’m to continue my photography work. Anything you can contribute would be most appreciated.

Meklit

[Image: Meklit performs with other musicians on an outdoor stage. The canopy reads Yerba Buena Gardens Festival.]

Yesterday I returned to Yerba Buena Gardens for the final concert of the season: Ethiopian-American singer-songwriter Meklit. I’d been looking forward to seeing her ever since hearing her music played during the intermission of a previous concert.

Meklit at Yerba Buena Gardens Festival
[Image: Meklit sings and plays guitar on an outdoor stage. Trombone and trumpet players play in the background.]

Meklit at Yerba Buena Gardens Festival
[Image: Meklit dances on an outdoor stage, with other musicians playing in the background.]

The performance was wonderful, as I expected. The weather was also beautiful, though warm enough that a canopy was erected to shade the musicians, making photography a challenge with the contrasting light.

Meklit band at Yerba Buena Gardens Festival
[Image: A trombone player plays while a trumpet player next to him smiles and laughs.]

The band was excellent and fun to watch.

Meklit band at Yerba Buena Gardens Festival
[Image: A drummer plays on an outdoor stage, with an upright bass player in the background.]

Meklit band at Yerba Buena Gardens Festival
[Image: An electric bass player performs on an outdoor stage.]

The rhythm section was in the pocket. I especially enjoyed watching the bass player, though unfortunately I didn’t get many shots of him playing upright. I had to put down the camera and just watch and listen for awhile.

Really glad I had a chance to see this wonderful artist, who was performing here exactly ten years after her professional debut at the same location. For an encore, the band performed the song “Kemekem (I Like Your Afro)”, as seen in this great video:

I’ve enjoyed this Yerba Buena concert series, and look forward to next year’s. As usual, I’ve uploaded all of the photos to Flickr. If you like my work, please consider supporting me on Patreon or leaving me a tip.

Monkey business

[Image: A howler monkey swings from a tree branch.]

Today’s Wikpedia Signpost newsletter featured an article that focused on my particular areas of interest enough that I wanted to blog about it immediately. The animal rights organization PETA has filed a lawsuit to grant the copyright for a selfie taken by a monkey, Naruto, to the monkey himself. This lawsuit follows an attempt by the human photographer, David Slater, to have the series of photos removed from Wikimedia, on the grounds that he owned the rights to them. The Wikimedia Foundation countered that the works were not covered by copyright law as they were not created by a human being; the U.S. Copyright Office agreed.

While most would be tempted to just laugh this all off as “ridiculous story of the week,” I’m both a photographer and animal rights activist, so I see several separate issues of interest here. I should begin by disclosing that I’m no fan of PETA; as I’ve blogged previously, I’ve found much of their messaging sexist, racist, and problematic in many other ways.

But what intrigues me about PETA’s lawsuit is the position that I’ve taken myself, that animals are people, not property. As I discussed in the linked post, however, being a person is not equivalent to being a citizen, with all the rights and privileges granted to a human resident of a particular political jurisdiction. Recognizing the personhood of non-human animals does not entail granting them equivalent legal status to humans in all areas, only in those which are meaningful in the context of living out their lives freely.

One would be hard-pressed to say that a wild animal taking a photograph, under highly-contrived circumstances arranged by a human, would have any legitimate interest in claiming legal ownership of their work. The original purpose of copyright, before greedy corporations like Disney and Warner/Chappell corrupted it, was to encourage artists to create new works by granting them exclusive rights for a limited period of time. Monkeys do not take photographs of their own accord, nor do they make income by selling prints or licenses.

While it doesn’t make much sense to grant Naruto this copyright, it’s questionable whether the human photographer should be profiting from what might amount to an act of exploitation, from a moral perspective. From a legal perspective, Slater claims he put a great amount of work into setting up the shots, so they should be considered his property.

A related issue came up a few years ago, when a friend posed a hypothetical question: If someone hands their camera to you and asks you to take a photo of them, and you do so, do you now own the rights to that photo? (This situation occurs quite frequently in tourism.) I posted this question to a photography forum, and quite a lively discussion ensued.

My position, as professional photographer (more actively so then than now), was that under United States copyright law, the photographer would own the photo, but it would be petty to try to actually enforce that claim. Others said that you would in essence be acting as a “meat tripod,” and thus had no claim to the work. I countered that as a professional, I would put some effort into framing, adjusting exposure, and the like, so I would actually be putting some work into the photo. (This was before smartphone snapshots became ubiquitous.) But I emphasized that I would never actually try to track down the photo and claim that I owned it.

As an aside, my frustration with the public’s ignorance of copyright law, coupled with my belief that capitalism should ultimately be dismantled, both led to the change in my photography business model. My Creative Commons-licensed photos are still under copyright another subject the general public doesn’t quite understand but that’s a topic for another post.

Regardless, we’re not talking about two humans here; we’re talking about a free-living animal who was cajoled by a human into helping create a product that no member of his species is capable of producing on their own, or even comprehending in full. I believe that trying to derive monetary profit from this endeavor is wrong on both PETA’s part and the photographer’s, even though PETA claims they would use 100% of the profits to benefit Naruto and other crested macaques. Animal rights efforts focus far too much on “personable” animals like monkeys and elephants, when the ones who most urgently need attention are the chickens, cows, pigs, and fishes that we slaughter by the tens of billions every year. Granting personhood means recognizing that no animal, regardless of species, should be the property of another.

Rally to end homelessness

[Image: San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim speaks at a podium on the steps of City Hall. Two people next to her hold a banner reading “End Homelessness | Fund Affordable Housing | Tax Wall Street.”]

Continuing with my exploration of gentrification, yesterday I attended a rally at San Francisco City Hall for the stated purpose of “Ending homelessness, funding affordable housing, and passing the Robin Hood Tax.” Speakers included representatives from Jobs with Justice, Plaza 16 Coalition, AIDS Housing Alliance/SF, Coalition on Homelessness, South of Market Community Action Network (SOMCAN), and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

Khafre Jay of Hip Hop for Change
[Image: Khafre Jay raps into a microphone. His shirt reads “Hip Hop for Change.”]

Khafre Jay of Hip Hop for Change
[Image: Khafre Jay raps into a microphone, left arm upraised.]

The rally began and ended with hip-hop performances by Khafre Jay, founder and executive director of Hip Hop for Change. I haven’t listened to this genre much, but I enjoyed the performance, and appreciate the group’s mission to end the stereotyping of this music and use it as a tool for grassroots activism.

Pastor Yul Dorn
[Image: Pastor Yul Dorn speaks at a podium outside San Francisco City Hall.]

One of the speakers at the rally was Yul Dorn, a pastor at Emmanuel Church who has been directly affected by gentrification in the Bayview. He said proudly and defiantly that he isn’t getting kicked out of his home.

Crowd at Robin Hood Rally
[Image: A crowd of people wearing green hats and holding green signs reading “RobinHoodTax.org | Our City is Not for Sale.”]

San Francisco Supervisor David Campos
[Image: San Francisco Supervisor David Campos speaks at a podium outside City Hall.]

Many at the rally wore green Robin Hood-style hats, including San Francisco Supervisor David Campos, who joked that as a gay man he appreciated the fashionable color. The other supervisor who attended was Jane Kim, pictured at the top of this post. During her speech, a black man at the periphery of the crowd yelled continuously and angrily. I couldn’t make out exactly what he was saying, as I was wearing earplugs (as I do at most amplified events) and was trying to concentrate on the speech.

But I was irritated when someone near me made a comment about needing more funding for mental health services. Aside from being somewhat ableist (even if well-intentioned), I didn’t get the sense that this man was mentally ill, just very angry and frustrated. I didn’t think he was directing his comments at Supervisor Kim in particular, but when I got home I remembered that a petition I’d signed that morning, protesting the proposed fencing off of a public space in the Mission, was addressed to her specifically.

Outlining body with chalk
[Image: A person lies spread-eagled on the sidewalk while another person outlines their body with chalk.]

Chalk body outline
[Image: The outline of a body chalked on the sidewalk, holding a sandwich and a cell phone, with the words “Don’t shoot me, bro,” “A sandwich not a gun,” and “Stop police brutality.”]

Toward the end of the rally I watched some sidewalk chalk activism happening. In addition to statements against gentrification, police brutality was highlighted.

Kung Feng, Jobs with Justice
[Image: Kung Feng of Jobs with Justice speaks at a podium outside San Francisco City Hall, both arms upraised.]

This rally was the only part I attended of a full day of actions, which included a protest outside the home of investor Ron Conway and the occupation of a Planning Commission meeting. As far as the Robin Hood Tax, I need to read more about it, but I’m certainly not opposed to taxing Wall Street. As I’ve said before, I don’t think we’ll have any true equality until and unless we abolish capitalism, but I recognize that I’m saying this from the comfort of my rent-controlled apartment. People sleeping on the streets need relief now, so I’m open to listening to ideas on how to improve the situation under our current system of government.

As usual, I’ve uploaded the full gallery of photos from the event to Flickr. I will continue to keep an eye out for more social justice-themed events to attend and photograph.

Black queer voices rising

[Image: The four-piece band Afrofonix performs.]

On Friday night I attended an evening of song, spoken word, and fellowship with black people in the LGBTQIA community as part of the R/evolve Oakland Pride celebration. It was a moving, intimate experience, which made me feel closer to the black community than ever before.

Blackberri
[Image: Blackberri sings while playing the guitar.]

The evening began with an invitation to call out names of our ancestors. Blackberri, an elder whose work is in the Smithsonian, then led us in a deep breathing exercise (with which I was very familiar from singing lessons). We then watched a video of images from the Civil Rights era set to music. Blackberri started singing along, and we all joined in. Then he performed his own songs for us on guitar.

Performing spoken word
[Image: An author reads a selection for the audience from a smartphone.]

We watched a moving video monologue by a black trans woman. Then the next performer, whose name I didn’t catch unfortunately, did a entertaining reading of a piece.

Jay-Marie singing and playing the bass
[Image: Jay-Marie singing and playing the bass.]

Jay-Marie did a solo bass and vocal performance, which I loved and which reminded me that I need to practice bass more often.

Star Amerasu singing[Image: Star Amerasu singing.]

AH-Mer-AH-Su, aka Star Amerasu, gave a high-energy live-looping performance with vocals, percussion, and some sweet dance moves.

Afrofonix
[Image: The lead singer and drummer from Afrofonix perform.]

Afrofonix
[Image: The bass player from Afrofonix sings.]

The band Afrofonix closed out the night, with soulful and stirring music of solidarity and revolution.

Kin Folkz
[Image: Kin Folkz smiles while speaking into a microphone. Their T-shirt reads “Love is Love.”]

I’m grateful to Kin Folkz (who reached out to me when I posted on the Facebook event about taking photos), Spectrum Queer Media, and all others who put together this event. Part of why I’ve felt distant from the black community, aside from what I’ve posted about previously, is the perception that it’s not particularly LGBTQIA-friendly. I attributed a lot of this to conservative Christian values, but even more seemingly-progressive voices can be surprisingly hostile.

So to be in a room surrounded by queer and trans black people was amazing. There was a spiritual energy to the celebration, but it felt primal, not Christian. I also noticed that nearly all of the performers and organizers wore a natural hairstyle, which given my own hair-story made me feel even more at ease.

As usual, I’ve posted the full set of photos to Flickr. I’m looking forward to spending more time getting to know the local black LGBTQIA community.

“Folk you” to gentrification

[Image: The band Sugar in the Salt performs on an indoor stage. Maia Papaya plays upright bass while Eli Conley plays acoustic guitar and sings into a microphone.]

Last night I attended a fundraiser concert at El Rio by the folk group Sugar in the Salt, hosted by Causa Justa :: Just Cause to support San Francisco Proposition I in the upcoming election. This initiative would put an 18-month moratorium on new market-rate housing in the Mission District.

I’ve lived in San Francisco for over twelve years, and have seen the rents rise from merely expensive to totally out of reach for all but the wealthy. I’ve also spent a lot of time in the Mission, and met many of the residents during the three years I did food justice volunteer work at the Free Farm Stand. This city desperately needs more truly affordable housing.

I’ve given up on political parties, but I’m still registered to vote specifically so that I can vote on ballot measures like this.  Hear about gentrification in the Mission from someone who lives there, Kai OD, in this video:

Aside from the good cause, the main reason I attended this concert was to watch the performance of my voice teacher, Eli Conley, and his bandmate Maia Papaya. Eli has personal experience with voice changes on testosterone, and is helping me adjust to my new singing range. It’s been an emotionally difficult experience, even though I knew to anticipate it, and it’s great to have the guidance of someone who has gone through it himself.

Eli Conley
[Image: Eli Conley sings into a microphone while playing acoustic guitar.]

Eli Conley
[Image: Eli Conley playing acoustic guitar.]

Maia Papaya is a fun cheerful person and talented multi-instrumentalist. Maia and Eli were both great to listen to as well as photograph.

Maia Papaya
[Image: Maia Papaya playing upright bass and singing into a microphone.]

Maia Papaya
[Image: Maia Papaya playing acoustic guitar.]

As usual I’ve uploaded the full set of photos to Flickr. If you have the financial means, please help me continue to do free shoots like this by sponsoring me on Patreon or leaving me a tip.

Clynton Oliver Cox

[Image: A five-piece band plays on an outdoor stage. A large banner reads Yerba Buena Gardens Festival.]

Today I once again braved hot, sunny weather and lunchtime crowds to shoot another free outdoor concert: Clynton Oliver Cox at Yerba Buena Gardens.

Clynton Oliver Cox at Yerba Buena Gardens
[Image: Clynton Oliver Cox  sings into a microphone on an outdoor stage. Bass and keyboard players play behind him.]

Clynton Oliver Cox at Yerba Buena Gardens
[Image: Clynton Oliver Cox  plays guitar and sings into a microphone on an outdoor stage. Bass and keyboard players play behind him.]

Clynton Oliver Cox band at Yerba Buena Gardens
[Image: A keyboard player and a drummer perform on an outdoor stage.]

I found the set very entertaining. The arrangements were keyboard-heavy; three keyboards were on the stage, with only one guitar, which Clynton frequently stopped playing when he sang.

Clynton Oliver Cox band at Yerba Buena Gardens
[Image: An electric bass player performs on an outdoor stage.]

Clynton Oliver Cox band at Yerba Buena Gardens
[Image: A drummer and keyboard player perform on an outdoor stage.]

The rhythm section was in the pocket. A bunch of folks got up to dance.

Clynton Oliver Cox at Yerba Buena Gardens
[Image: Clynton Oliver Cox plays guitar on an outdoor stage. A keyboard player plays behind him.]

As with the previous concert, I enjoyed the music enough to stay the whole time (only an hour in this case, as it was a weekday lunch hour performance). Toward the end I was asked to fill out a survey. The gender options listed on it were “Female,” “Male,” and “Transgender/Other.” While this inclusion was well-intentioned, it wasn’t really accurate, as most binary trans people wish to be recognized simply as female or male, without qualifiers. But since I’m agender as well as transsexual and want to increase trans visibility, I did choose the third option. I probably won’t bother to contact Yerba Buena about this; it’s a much higher priority for me to educate people who list only two gender options.

As usual, I’ve uploaded the full set of photos to Flickr. If you’re enjoying my photography and writing, please consider sponsoring me on Patreon or leaving me a tip.