Janet Delaney’s South of Market: A look back at a changing San Francisco neighborhood in the 1970s and ’80s (PHOTOS).

Photographs of a Place That Transformed San Francisco in the Early ’80s 

Photographs of a Place That Transformed San Francisco in the Early ’80s 

Behold
The Photo Blog
July 12 2015 10:37 AM

SOMA in the ’80s: Photographing a Changing San Francisco 

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10th at Folsom Street, 1982.

Janet Delaney

Janet Delaney grew up in the suburbs of Los Angeles and moved to San Francisco’s SOMA neighborhood in 1978, finding herself at the heart of an area populated with artists living in empty warehouses. A few blocks from her apartment was a massive construction site where the Moscone Center was being built. The construction, which necessitated the demolition of many buildings, caused many poor and elderly residents to be displaced. It turned out to be a catalyst in Delaney’s work—her photos of south of Market from that time are a visual history of a city in transition.

“I felt drawn toward trying to understand how people are affected by their built environment, not just the formal elements of the lines and shapes but who lives there and what happens when people change, and they were being radically changed by the construction of the Moscone Center,” she said.

Delaney was also influenced by the shift in photography from natural landscapes toward those that were of an industrial, man-made starkness. The images also represent a nostalgic look back at what seems a completely different lifetime.

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Delaney, however, is hardly the nostalgic type and doesn’t see change as necessarily a bad thing, especially as it relates to the ways in which SOMA is viewed today: as ground zero for the debate about new technology moving in and radically altering San Francisco.

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Mercantile Building, Mission and 3rd Street, 1980.

Janet Delaney

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Helen and her husband at the Helen Cafe, 480 6th Street, 1980.

Janet Delaney

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Transbay Terminal Newsstand, 1982.

Janet Delaney

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Office workers on lunch break near the site of the new convention center, Minna at 4th Street, 1980.

Janet Delaney

“I don’t think the techies wrecked [San Francisco],” Delaney said. “There is an amazing new phase in San Francisco, incredible new energy and industry bringing thousands of people to the city.”

“There are problems when that happens, when new people come in and don’t know where they are and the community they are building isn’t necessarily in the present since they are living online. ... We thought of rent at that time as a third or quarter of income so you could still do other things; you weren’t a slave to your rent. How are we going to address this moving forward? There are many ways we can embrace the new population. The participants have to acknowledge who was there earlier but everyone replaces someone else: Are you active in the local soup kitchen? Are you eating at that greasy spoon you’re glad is there because it adds texture but you’re going next door to the fancier one? It’s all about voting with your pocketbook and where you choose to spend time.”

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Steve Rue, a 22-year resident of Langton Street, poses with his longtime neighbors. Langton and Folsom Street, 1981.

Janet Delaney

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Labyris Auto Repair, “Complete Car Care by Women,” 240 6th Street, 1982.

Janet Delaney

After photographing the area “furiously” through 1982, Delaney moved on with life, photographing in Nicaragua during the revolution, and also in New York City as well working as some personal projects. She said she often thought about going back and photographing SOMA and eventually began again in 2012, a year before Mack published her earlier work as a book, South of Market. An exhibition is also on view at de Young in San Francisco through July 19.

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Working on the book and exhibition gave Delaney a unique insight into the work, three decades after she had created it.

“I’m not nostalgic, but I find one of my major commitments to photography is its ability to provide a way of time travel so we can hold the past in the present.”

Delaney will give a talk at the San Francisco Heritage Foundation on July 16.

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Bobbie Washington braiding her daughter Ayana’s hair, 28 Langton Street, 1982.

Janet Delaney

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San Francisco Tennis Club Bar, 645 5th Street, 1980.

Janet Delaney

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Pat serving coffee at Gordon Cafe in the Budget Hotel, 7th at Mission Street, 1980.

Janet Delaney

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Bulk Natural Foods, Russ at Howard Street, 1980.

Janet Delaney

David Rosenberg is the editor of Slate’s Behold blog. He has worked as a photo editor for 15 years and is a tennis junkie. Follow him on Twitter.