When independent curator Ann Jastrab called gallery owner Karen Jenkins-Johnson to ask if she could bring a photography class by for a tour, Jenkins said sure — in exchange for putting on a show at Jenkins Johnson Gallery.
This was not a barrier to trade for Jastrab, who has been without a space since RayKo Photo Center, where she was gallery director for 10 years, closed last May. She had been wanting to base an exhibition on the poem “I Need, I Need,” by Theodore Roethke, and quickly rounded up nine Bay Area photographers willing to put their pictures to the text.
The confluence of all these factors is “There Is No Alas Where I Live,” a searing group show of 80 images on display through Jan. 27 at Jenkins Johnson, on the ground floor of the Art Deco high-rise at 450 Sutter St., uphill from Union Square.
At its essence, the poem “I Need, I Need” is about a world without pity and without regret. The nine shooters in the show — Wessaam Al-Badry, Johanna Case-Hofmeister, Hiroyo Kaneko, Kathya Landeros, Eva Lipman, Paccanik Orue, Mimi Plumb, Josh Smith and Lewis Watts — all have images to prove it.
“A lot of their work is documentary based,” explains Jastrab. “Some of it is romantic, some of it is street photography, some of it is social documentary. But what brings it all together is that the places featured in the work have hit hard times.”
In the picture windows on Sutter Street are blown-up black-and-whites of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina by Watts. Inside the door are Kaneko’s color images of Japan after a tsunami.
There are images of the displacement caused by natural disaster and of the displacement caused by human disaster. There are documentary studies of Muslims in America, farmworkers in the Central Valley and the Mississippi Delta, miners working open pits.
Mimi Plumb’s images reflect the punk rock diaspora in San Francisco in the 1980s. Eva Lipman’s photos depict prizefighters, football players and rodeo cowboys.
“The subjects in these photographs are resilient,” says Jastrab. “They move forward no matter what has happened to them, hurricanes, floods, fires, political nightmares, death, disaster.”
In the end, her documentary photography class at the San Francisco Art Institute ran out of time last September and was unable to tour the gallery. So Jenkins-Johnson got the best end of the deal.
“Ann is a real jewel in the photography community,” says Jenkins Johnson, who has been in the Sutter Street space since 1996. “I’ve wanted her to curate a show here as soon as I got to know her.”