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2019 SPE Annual Conference: The Myths of Photography and the American Dream / Major support by The Joy Family Legacy Foundation

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Jason Tannen

SPE Member since 2004
Member Chapter: West

2017 W/SW Juried Exhibition Application Portfolio

For over three decades, my work has explored the urban landscape. In 2010, I began a project photographing San Francisco's Chinatown. I was drawn to Chinatown's physical and visual density of buildings, storefronts, signs and symbols, and an ever-present cultural collision of East and West. For me, those elements could best be explored in black and white, which can focus the photograph on the essential elements of light and shadow, image and emotion. This is in part due to an ongoing inspiration for me: Film Noir. These American films from the 1940s and 50s were mainly set in the urban jungle, featured desperate people in dire situations, and took full advantage of black and white to create a mood of mystery and anticipation.

These photographs are mostly without people, although their presence is ubiquitous. I also avoid cars and street action, which helps make the images free-floating, without reference to particular period or era. This also harkens back to Film Noir, where characters and settings are archetypal and narratives are self-contained, with scant reference to current conditions or events. I try to achieve Film Noir's sense of anticipation in these photographs with indirect references to the human presence: signs and symbols, graphic portrayals (posters and advertisements), and architectural elements such as open doorways, corridors, and framing strategies where foreground objects loom around the edges of the picture.

I rarely photograph direct sunlight, preferring the subtleties of skylight, which filters down between the buildings. I shoot mainly in the early hours of the day to get that quality of early morning light. An added attraction to shooting early in the day is that there's less street traffic.


Gaze II



Sam Wo

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