In this week’s Lovesourced we talk to Garry Bowden, the videographer behind Souls of San Francisco; a successfully crowd-funded project which sees him document the myriad of faces he meets throughout one America’s most diverse cities.
Garry Bowden is a filmmaker and photographer based in San Francisco. Having achieved success with his two short films Saturn Rising and Christmas and Hanukkah which played in the 2011 Mill Valley Film Festival, the 2011 Atlanta Underground Film Festival and the 2012 Taos Shortz Film Festival, he turned his eye to the people who inspired him most; the San Franciscans. “This project gives me an excuse to stop and meet all the interesting people in this city,” he told The Huffington Post. “There’s nowhere in the world like the Bay Area, so I’m grateful I get to learn about its culture straight from the people who create it.” Bowden explained his philosophy to the Post’s Carly Schwarz, “Despite how we appear to be different on the outside, we all experience the same things in our inner world,” Bowden said. “Life is made infinitely easier if we see each other as friends exploring the mystery of life together.”
We talked to Garry Bowden to find out a bit more about his process and inspirations.
1. Firstly, can you tell us a bit about your background as a photographer?
Well, I’m a filmmaker also so I’ve always been drawn to visual storytelling. The last short film I made, Saturn Rising, is only 11 minutes but took 6 months to make. It was met with success and a film festival run but I wanted to find an art form that was less time and labor intensive. I asked my cinematographer what the best camera was and he told me to get a Canon 7D. Then I just started teaching myself how to use it.
2. Who are your photography heroes and how would you describe your own style?
Just yesterday I saw the Garry Winogrand exhibit at the SF MOMA and it was really powerful. Benjamin Heath and Michael O’Neal are local SF photographers who I really respect and admire. And there’s Paul Octavious out of Chicago who’s a genius. My style is about really being present and seeing the person in front of you. If you can do that you access a dimension where time doesn’t exist. In order to do that you have to meet the person where they are. That’s why all my pictures are at eye level. If someone is on the ground, I get down to meet them so I can see clearly to the depths of their soul to the infinite.
3. What was the motivation behind ‘Souls of San Francisco’? And what excited you most about it?
I visited my friend Brandon in NYC when he was beginning Humans of New York and even before it went viral on an international level I realized how powerful the project could be. I decided to do the same type of project here but with a twist that reflects my own personality and the personality of San Francisco, which I guess after living here for five years are one in the same. What excites me most about the project is where it can go in the future. I’ve been doing it for about a year and a half but there are so many ways that it can evolve. And the more pictures there are, the more impactful and layered the project becomes.
4. Pick your three favourite photos from the collection and explain why you chose them
It’s so hard to pick favorites because I love them all for different reasons but 3 that stand out are:
“Yahweh” – It was the one of the first photos I took that I thought was good. It has a magical ethereal quality and I based my style on that picture.
“Daffodil Magic Trip” – This a picture of my mom I took when she came to visit me here. She raised me as a single parent and had to play breadwinner and mom so for most of my life I thought of her path as more conventional and business oriented. When I took this picture it totally clicked inside me that the choices she made to provide for me allowed me to move out to the west coast and pursue my artistic passions. The picture allowed me to see past my projections and recognize her as the super powerful, psychedelic being that she is. I love that you can look at it and feel the intensity of her love.
“Illumination” – I love this picture because I feel like it’s impossible to not smile when you see it. The pictures at the beginning of the project are generally more stoic and intense. After seeing so many of the same expressions I realized that these people were reflecting my expressions and emotions. Throughout the project I’ve been working on myself internally and this picture really stands out as a moment when I recognized that I was happy. Not in the temporary sense, but in a deeper sense of general happiness and gratitude for my life and the things I’ve been blessed with.
5. Why did you choose to only shoot portraits?
I love people.
6. What equipment set-up do you use to complete your shots?
I use a Canon 7d with a 50mm 1.4 lens.
7. What has been the most touching encounter whilst undertaking your project?
Another tough one, there are so many. I took a picture of “Sweet Willie” in the Tenderloin. He lives on the street in that hood. I used to live there too and it’s a very intense place. A lot of crack, a lot of prostitution, a lot of demons. I used to walk by Sweet Willie and he was always beaming. I stopped to talk to him and he was so alert, vibrant and conscious. The picture we got together really captures his essence. His eyes are shrouded in darkness but you can feel the un-extinguishable light coming out of them. I asked him why he was so cheery and he said, “We’re homeless but not helpless, and we don’t let a situation turn into a shituation.”
8. Congratualtions on reaching your Kickstarter funding goal! How did you find the crowdfunding experience?
Thank you! I love crowdfunding, I’ve done it a couple times. It’s great to engage people and get support from your community. It’s validation that what you’re doing has value to other people and not just to yourself.
9. Next step for the project?
More books! Volume 1 is out now and Volumes 2 and 3 will be coming out later this year! I self published the first book through a SF company called Blurb but it would be great to connect with a publisher so they could handle the publishing and distribution of the books. Also, a Souls of San Francisco documentary, I’ve got some great video interviews and I’d like to put more energy into producing a full length documentary. And more photographers…up until now Souls of San Francisco has been SF thru my eyes. It’s way more interesting to get more perspectives so I hope I can encourage other photographers to help paint the picture of this amazing city!