Street photography doesn’t have to be exploitative. Photographing people on the street is more than just shooting people that are sleeping in doorways or pushing carts through parking lots, according to veteran snapper Travis Jensen.
Jensen has been shooting around San Francisco for over a decade, perfecting the art of street portraits and candid snapshots of everyday people.
“People in my shots command respect,” Jensen said during an October 2016 reception for a City College of San Francisco exhibit of his work. “Even though it’s clear they don’t make a lot of money.”
Often black in white, Jensen’s images hew toward the subjective, and frequently using close ups of regular people in places like the Tenderloin and south of Market neighborhoods.
Now living in Los Angeles, Jensen spent the last year combing through his voluminous trove of images for his latest book, “7 Year Cycle.”
“I was bummed for the first year I was here [in LA], and I missed the city,” Jensen said. “Now that I’m not there anymore, and can’t just step outside and shoot cool shit, I’ve been looking at everything I had. I’m really proud of it. It’s my way of explaining how complicated the city is. Now I see the ridiculousness of the struggle and how real the hustle is.”
Jensen lived that struggle from street on up, he said. After moving to the city after high school, he spent many of his waking hours skating around the city’s low rent districts, the kinds of places young people like him could afford to live.
“Skating and street photography kind of go hand in hand,” Jensen said. “When you’re skateboarding, you see a bench or curb, but not like everyone else. You think, ‘How could I skate that?’ It’s the same thing with street photography. I use the buildings and light and just see things differently. So that’s how I approach it.”
Juan Gonzales taught Jensen in the early 2000s in City College of San Francisco’s journalism program. When one of Gonzales’ current students asked if the department could bring Jensen in for an exhibit this past October, Gonzales said he discovered he was impressed with his former student’s images.
“I always remember Travis with his skateboard,” Gonzales said. “When my students asked if we could show some of his work, I was proud to see how far he had come.”
The exhibit ran through early November, but some of Jensen’s other work is being shown as part of a Community Arts International project near San Francisco’s Union Square.
The Kiosk Museum has converted some of the city’s old newspaper kiosks into impromptu exhibition spaces, and Jensen’s work is featured at a kiosk at the corner of Post and Stockton streets. Four other kiosks also are feature local photographers. All of them, including Jensen, tend to focus less on the city’s flashy tourist spots and more on the real people who make the city what it is.
As for his latest book, Jensen said he doesn’t even want to make money off of it. Any money raised beyond the cost of publishing will likely be donated to Mission Girls Club or Larkin St. Youth center, Jensen said.
The man knows the streets. And he has the pictures to prove it.