I have been working from black and white photographic images for about ten years,
originally from aerial reconnaissance photos from WWII taken by my father. The
most recent paintings for Brave City focus on a series of images taken in the
aftermath of the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. The first image which captivated
me came in a group of Edwardian stereoscope cards that I bought online. It is a
single overhead shot of the smoking ruins of the area surrounding Market Street,
taken from a watchtower that was still left standing, providing a perfect spot to
record the event. It is the first big natural disaster to be recorded on both
photographic film and movie film.
I became captivated by these images of the ruined city and researching the event, it
became apparent that although initially disastrous, the death toll was remarkably
low and the subsequent rebuilding of the city was a huge triumph of financial
philanthropy and artisan skills. After redesigning the entire city more or less from the
ground up, in 1915 San Francisco hosted the World’s Fair to huge acclaim, a mere
nine years after the earthquake and ensuing fire had erazed it to the ground. I began
to appreciate the event and recovery as a metaphor for human resilience on earth;
the catastrophe followed by the rehabilitation, the recovery showcasing the best
qualities of individuals and society working in harmony.
I later found a documentary film online that was taken from a moving tram a few
days after the disaster when some of the roads had been cleared. The grainy black
and white film is mesmerising, you can see people working on clearing the rubble,
but also smiling and mugging for the camera. Another documentary made in the
early 1970’s has interviews with survivors interspersed with the original film footage.
At one point in the 1906 footage a youth leaps jokingly in front of the tram with his
hands in the air as if in celebration. In light of the circumstances, i found this
extraordinary and again a symbol of indomitable human spirit and resilience. From
this film, I took still shots and got some blurry almost abstracted shots which I then
continued to work from in oils.
BRAVE CITY 1, 2022.