SAN FRANCISCO 8.25.73
Back in the early 70's, I worked as a freelance photographer in California. The west coast was livable, affordable and other than an occasional trembler an amazing place to live. My home base was San Francisco and for several years lived and worked out of the top floor loft at 1782 Union Street in the Pacific Heights area.
One sunny Saturday in 1973, August 25th to be exact, I decided to document the day by photographing random people who walked past my studio building. No agenda, no screening, no sales pitch, simply asked folks if they'd like a professional photo taken. Starting mid-morning I approached total strangers and convinced them to climb two flights of stairs in order to snap a few photos. My Hasselblad camera was set on a tripod and a plain black paper background hung as my background. Once each subject was in place, it was just a few clicks of the shutter, a bit of conversation and they returned to the street to move ahead with their day. I photographed families with strollers, friends heading to lunch, couples on vacation, business travelers, brothers, sisters and lost souls...a wonderful cross section of humanity. Names and addresses were recorded and prints were sent to everyone as a thank you. Twenty groups were photographed with a total of 39 individuals in the mix. Overall it was a fun and a successful exercise.
In 1978, PLAYBOY offered me a job at their magazine headquarters in Chicago. Of course I accepted and packed up my studio and headed off to begin an amazing career at the international publishing empire. The years flew by. I got married, raised a family and completely forgot about my San Francisco portraits until I retired from PLAYBOY and decided to open a small storefront photo studio in 2013. While unpacking dozens of stored boxes from my days in California, I discovered the print collection and hung them in my new studio. Seeing these images after a lapse of 40+ years and reflecting on that day got me wondering as to the whereabouts of all those I met in 1973. How amazing would it be to track them down and reconnect after almost half a century. Have each share a timeline of their life since that day and then, in a perfect world, meet and photograph them again. With that germ of an idea my search began.
Over the past eight years with on and off sleuthing, I've been able to account for 26 of the original 39 photographed. Needless to say some have passed away but even those gone I've been able to get a glimpse into their lives thanks to friends and family members. But those I've contacted have at first been totally blown away but once they recover from the shock are willing to share stories of their lives. And the tales they tell are amazing.
This past August I finally reached out and arranged to meet and photograph the first of what I hope to be many from my series. Paige Davis, a little toddler of 18 months, along with her mom and dad climbed the stairs to my studio to be photographed together. Now 50, Paige lives in a small town just outside Columbus, Ohio and was excited to meet and have me photograph her again as well as allowing a film crew to document the day. And what a day it was. Not only did she share her life's journey over the last four decades but told me the emotional significance my photo holds for her. As it turns out my photo on that Saturday in 1973 was the last taken of the family all together. She told me in the late 1970's her mom and dad split up. She remained with her mom in San Francisco while her dad moved to Palm Springs. A short time after her father was hit and killed in a car accident and a few years later, while Paige was in her teens, her mom passed away from cancer. My brief happenstance photo session was the last capturing the three together. Needless to say, that day and the documenting photo has a very special meaning for Paige.
With this first interview and subsequent fresh photography I hope to travel the country to meet others and have them reflect on their lives as the 50th anniversary of that Saturday in 1973 approaches.
Paige Davis / August 2022