Categories: Visual Arts

Photos showcase S.F. over a century

Local history unfolds, and photography emerges as one of the modern era’s vital art forms in a gallery exhibit revisiting the Panama-Pacific International Exposition and chronicling the evolution of San Francisco in the age of the camera.

More than 30 vintage images dating from 1851 to the 1960s are on view in “San Francisco: Rebirth of the Enduring City” at Robert Tat Gallery. The exhibition marks the centennial of the Panama-Pacific exposition, the fair that demonstrated that San Francisco, devastated by the 1906 earthquake and fire, was back. It also provides a journey through The City’s changing landscape and looks at events that helped shape it, over a century.

“The exposition was a celebration of rebirth, so we want to show The City as it was as well as The City that later emerged,” says gallery director Robert Tat.

Described by Tat as a “cavalcade” of images, the presentation begins with a rare panorama of the San Francisco waterfront. It contains two silver photographs made by Martin Behrman (in 1910) from daguerreotypes by pioneering photographer William Shew, which were made before April 1851. Shew’s images are believed to be the first photographs of San Francisco.

“California Street From Sansome Street, San Francisco,” taken by Isaiah West Taber in 1875, shows the hilly thoroughfare as it looked in the days of horses and buggies and early cable cars.

Images of Market Street and Mission Dolores by William Henry Jackson reveal a turn-of-the-century landscape. Jackson used the Photochrom process, which involved a “litho stone” and some chemical interaction, to color his photos.

The history tour includes photos of the earthquake and fire’s aftermath, including the moving “Refugees After the Quake, 1906” by Arnold Genthe, a journalistic document of the disaster and picture of the survivor experience. The ruined Fairmont Hotel appears in the background.

The show’s centerpiece features the Panama-Pacific International Exposition and includes hand-colored silver prints of its architecture and splendor. Frequently photographed structures include the Tower of Jewels, the exposition’s central building. An image of the Palace of Fine Arts is by Francis Brugiere, who was known for experimenting with multiple exposures.

Some post-exposition images feature the building of The City’s bridges. The dramatic-looking “Tower, San Francisco Bay Bridge Under Construction” was taken in 1936 by Horace Bristol, a Depression-era artist who worked with John Steinbeck.

San Francisco neighborhoods shine in “Chinatown, Grant Avenue at Dusk, San Francisco 1952,” by Gerald Ratto, and “North Beach Street Scene, San Francisco at Night (facade),” a dark 1960s image by Vernon Sutcher.

Images by Gabriel Moulin, Pirkle Jones and Carleton Watkins also are featured.

San Francisco: Rebirth of the Enduring City
Where: Robert Tat Gallery, 49 Geary St., Suite 410, S.F.
When: 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, closes Aug. 22
Admission: Free
Contact: (415) 781-1122,

Anita Katz

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