The San Francisco Bay Area is often regarded as a place of financial opportunity for "new money" due to the fortunes created starting during the Gold Rush and in recent decades in Silicon Valley, as well as a bastion of liberal culture and politics – a reputation earned in the 1960s. More recently, the small but sometimes violent activities of the Occupy San Francisco and Occupy Oakland movements became national news, sometimes even surpassing the marquee Occupy Wall Street movement in attention garnered.
Yet few are fully aware of the exclusive nature of the “old money” society that exists in San Francisco. This culture is deeply rooted in the historical origins of the city as a place of entrepreneurship in the wake of the Gold Rush in the mid 1800s. As of 2010, 80 of the 400 richest Americans on the Forbes list lived in California, many of them in the Bay Area.
In San Francisco, some of the wealthiest Americans coexist with some of the poorest Americans in a space of just 46 square miles. One is struck by how close these venues that cater to people on opposite ends of the socioeconomic scale are to each other – sometimes within one block – as with the Bay Club and the St. Vincent de Paul homeless shelter that are within sight of one another. The buildings surveyed in this series have very small identifying signage, if they have any at all, and often these signs are occluded. It suggests, perhaps unintentionally, that there exists a social agreement in San Francisco that if such places like shelters and clinics must exist that they should be discreet.
Some of the buildings have timely significance. The Veterans Affairs clinic is particularly relevant as the United States winds down military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and incidences of post traumatic stress disorder among veterans is increasing rapidly. The Archdiocese building has been the site of nonviolent and violent clashes between Occupy activists and the San Francisco police.
One pair of images illustrates the wildly different people that are serviced by the building. The St. Regis is one of the most expensive hotels in the city while the homeless shelter caters to a different clientele, yet hotels and homeless shelters both provide people a bed to sleep in and a roof over their heads. Another pair highlights income inequality: a mansion owned by one of the wealthiest Americans (who installed large hedges so as the provide privacy from the public) against a building temporarily occupied by some of the poorest Americans.All of the images are presented within a white frame to accentuate clinical treatment of inequality, all are photographed in color under consistently bright sunlight, and all feature a conspicuous absence of people to illustrate the near anonymity of the buildings in the urban landscape.