Looking Forward—the second of two consecutive exhibitions celebrating the tenth anniversary of Pier 24 Photography—highlights a selection of photographers collected in depth by the Pilara Foundation over the past decade. With a focus on single artist galleries, Looking Forward demonstrates an interest in extensively collecting photographers’ works to best communicate their visions for a given project or moment in time. In several cases, this exhibition is our first opportunity to showcase some photographers and new bodies of work by others. For a number of the contemporary photographers included—such as Daniel Gordon, Todd Hido, Richard Learoyd, Tabitha Soren, and Awoiska van der Molen—the Pilara Foundation has a greater holding of their work than any other institution.
Many of the featured photographers address the human condition in the twenty-first century. Tabitha Soren reflects on how we relate to others and the mass media we consume in an era dominated by digital technology. Todd Hido’s enigmatic, often menacing pictures allude to the dangers of climate change, while Du Zhenjun’s meticulously constructed environments speak overtly to climate concerns—specifically the potential devastation precipitated by globalization and overconsumption. Erica Deeman, Zanele Muholi, and Eva O’Leary examine contemporary identity politics. Deeman’s portraits of men from the African diaspora speak to the social constructs of identity, gender, and race. Muholi’s evocative self-portraits integrating everyday objects redress inequalities in representation in portraiture by forefronting black, queer, and trans narratives in her native South Africa. And O’Leary’s tender portraits of adolescent and college-age women focus on how the self-images of young women—informed by the media and societal expectations—shape their projected identities.
Pier 24 Photography’s long-standing dedication to collecting work related to the city of San Francisco and the San Francisco Bay Area is also prominent. In the reception area, we pay homage to the Bay Bridge with pictures commissioned by three different photographers—John Chiara, Veronika Kellndorfer, and Richard Learoyd—and an installation of vintage postcards illustrating this iconic structure through the decades. Awoiska van der Molen’s striking black-and-white nighttime scenes and John Chiara’s ethereal skyline views reveal their makers’ unique perspectives on and approaches to San Francisco’s urban landscape. Daniel Postaer’s lush, poignant vignettes of the evolving city and Austin Leong’s wry black-and-white pictures of everyday moments on the street speak to a constantly changing social climate.
Looking Forward presents the work of three former Pier 24 Photography volunteers—Erica Deeman, Austin Leong, and Eva O’Leary. Their work is wide-ranging in style and subject matter, but all three share an unwavering focus on their chosen genre, whether it is formal portraiture or urban street views.
The earliest works in the exhibition are by Fred Herzog and Ray Metzker, twentieth-century photographers who documented everyday urban life in their respective cities of Vancouver and Chicago. In a documentary project of an entirely different vein, RongRong shows us life in Beijing East Village—China’s most significant twentieth-century artistic community, which gave rise to powerful and important works of Chinese contemporary performance art.
In 2019, Looking Back, the first of our two tenth-anniversary exhibitions, featured photographers and subjects the Pilara Foundation had collected in depth before Pier 24 Photography opened. Likewise, Looking Forward is not meant to reflect the breadth of the collection as a whole, but this time to demonstrate the scope and focal points of the Foundation’s recent collecting. Together, these anniversary exhibitions consider the collection’s origins, recent history, and future trajectory.