Eyes of the city

Pub date May 11, 2010
SectionVisual Art


STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO Two packs of beer, five cameras, and a ridiculous amount of camera equipment are hauled up the narrow staircase and onto the Guardian’s sunny rooftop on Potrero Hill. The four members of Caliber, a talented group of Bay Area photographers, immediately strap on their cameras and secure their lenses.

Running to the edge of the roof, spinning in circles, pointing up, down, and side to side, they take snapshots. The sunset, the traffic, the sidewalk below — Caliber shows that it’s possible to find a beautiful angle in every direction.

“It’s like we’ve never taken a picture before,” says Caliber member Julie Michelle, smirking after a series of shots. A couple of minutes of later, beer lures the rest of the pack — Stuart Dixon, Travis Jensen, Troy Holden, and his visiting brother, Dylan — around the picnic table to talk about their love for street photography.

Photo by Julie Michelle

The group met through Flickr in October 2009, after admiring each other’s varied styles. They decided to collaborate in an independent fashion, putting up a Web site filled with genuine San Francisco moments only residents can experience. When they aren’t lurking with a camera in alleyways or roaming along sidewalks and through parking lots, Caliber’s male members work 9-to-5’s, while Michelle races around the city photographing for her own Web site. Caliber’s images are a sheer labor of love.

Dixon is all about using “weird gear” and putting a new spin on classic shots of the bridge, Bay landmarks, and traffic. The group describes Jensen as a legit street photographer who captures kick-flips, drug trades, and intimate portraits of wizened or withered people. Holden “defaults to high buildings,” abandoned warehouses, and construction zones. Michelle loves architectural details and stumbling upon “lonely” timeless moments.

Photo by Travis Jensen

“As a group, we’re not taking Hallmark postcard pictures. This is the San Francisco we live in. It’s not a sunset at Crissy Field or the Painted Ladies,” Michelle says.

“It’s the nitty-gritty city stuff,” Jensen clarifies.

Every day, the Caliber Web site features a minimum of four new photos, a click from each member caught in their digital nets while walking to work, riding the bus, or on a Sunday morning stroll. From intimate portraits to the beautiful cityscapes, Caliber’s photos capture the real San Francisco from the dirty ground up.

Photo by Troy Holden

“Getting the perfect shot is very mathematical. And this is me being nerdy, but it’s recognizing when every element is in its right place,” says Troy, noting that sometimes it takes a hundred snaps of a single scene to get it right.

“It’s like panning for gold, finding the nugget,” adds Michelle. “And all you need is one.”