Dual exhibit explores old narrative techniques in new ways, highlights diversity in art, local culture

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In a city as cosmopolitan as San Francisco, it seems only natural for RayKo Photo Center’s two new exhibits to celebrate such diversity through their focus on unique stories captured on camera.

The main exhibit, “The Visual Voice: New Photo Book Narratives,” features the photo books of 22 photographers from countries around the world. Fittingly, both the inspiration for the exhibit and its curation stemmed from multiple sources. At the opening reception, The Daily Californian had the privilege of speaking with a number of these individuals whose involvement in the show ranged everywhere from curator to photographer.

“About a year ago, I was at FotoFest in Houston, which is a big international portfolio review, and I saw Jana Romanova’s work,” said gallery director and curator Ann Jastrab. “She’s from Russia, and she had this really amazing book called “Shvilishvili.” It’s really a narrative book about her family history … and it reveals through a series of pictures that her grandparents were actually murdered by her cousin.”

This surprising revelation as well as the presence of other works at FotoFest containing equally enthralling narrative threads served as the motivation to create the show.

Mirroring the distinct stories conveyed through photographs, the books themselves vary in construction and design. “TUNA,” a book by Marcus Lyon focusing on Japan’s Tsukiji Market, aptly takes the form of a metal tin, much like the kind in which canned fish can be found.

“What we’re trying to do with this show is to show people photo books that are not like the traditional monograph, where you just have one picture following another, but books that include a lot of text and tell a story,” said curator and Center for Book and Paper Arts director Steve Woodall to The Daily Californian. “I think there’s tremendous untapped potential for photographers in particular to make books.”

In addition to the volumes arranged in various display cases, prints from the publications line the gallery walls. An especially exquisite image by Toni Greaves features the profile of a young nun. The entire scene is cast in a warm, almost ethereal light. “My intention with this body of work and in other things that I do is simply to create — perhaps open a doorway to — understanding and people being interested in somebody else’s perspective on life,” Greaves said to The Daily Californian.

A similar sentiment can be found in the second exhibit, “A Changing Mission: To Whom Does San Francisco’s Oldest Neighborhood Belong?” Preceded by a piece in San Francisco Chronicle, the 25 photographs on display were taken over the course of eight months in order to showcase the evolution of the area.

“It was my idea with Kristen Go, our deputy managing editor, to pick one square block in the Mission and just tell it through this myopic lens to kind of give people a better idea of what the change meant from a curated point of view versus just kind of an overall non-emotional perspective,” said the San Francisco Chronicle’s director of photography Judy Walgren to The Daily Californian.

Arguably one of the most moving images features Martha Mosqueda embracing Father Tom Seagrave at her family’s farewell party. Following her parents’ deaths, she and her siblings could not afford to keep their childhood home and bid it a bittersweet farewell amongst friends, relatives and neighbors. Set against a nearly black background, the two figures’ faces and body language speak volumes about their connection to the area and the people who reside there. More than merely a place to live, the Mission District in many cases represents a personal history that can neither be replaced nor forgotten.

“I hope that the people that come here today realize that everyone feels that they have staked a claim in the Mission, that they have ownership of the Mission to some degree,” said Walgren. “Who are we to say who belongs there?”

With work spanning years and continents, RayKo’s exhibits give visitors the opportunity to visually experience chronicles of change in San Francisco and various cities abroad.

“The Visual Voice: New Photo Book Narratives” will be available to view until March 3, 2015.

Contact Jennifer Tanji at [email protected].

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