Photographer Troy Holden Captures Changing Nature Of SF's 'Colorful Streets'

Troy Holden has spent years photographing downtown San Francisco, capturing candid photos of people as they move through the streets of the city. 

But for his first solo show, "Colorful Streets," which opens January 6th at North Beach's Mule Gallery, Holden decided to set some new constraints for his work. He chose to focus exclusively on the “densest part of San Francisco"—Market Street between 4th and 6th streets—and to shoot only on 35mm color film. 

Holden’s previous shows in San Francisco have been centered around monochrome film work, staged with other street photographers, and held in community spaces or empty parking lots. Having his first solo show has been a learning opportunity in both how galleries work, and how to develop a show that can stand alone, he said.

Holden had about a year to develop his portfolio for the new show. Since Mule Design Studio's front gallery space isn't really a source of income, he said, they take less commission than galleries often do. They're also allowing him to display his work for two months, rather than the typical gallery show duration of three or four weeks.

“It's a great space with huge white walls, and I will have just plain black frames to help the photos really stand out,” Holden said. 

Holden, who has a non-photography-related day job in the neighborhood, said he does most of his shooting before and after work and on his lunch break. He typically photographs Market Street from 4th to 11th Street or so, but he said he had to learn to adapt after limiting himself to just two blocks, and to color film. 

“I paid more attention to the lighting with color film," he said. "But there are a hundred things you can’t control when shooting in dense foot traffic in a crowd.” 

Holden said he's witnessed many changes unfolding in the neighborhood from behind the lens. More younger, professional people are coming into the mid-Market area during the week, and his weekday shots have become “a little less interesting" as the neighborhood's colorful characters increasingly appear to have been pushed out.

The people working downtown also don’t tend to frequent the mom-and-pop stores on Market Street, and the area's business profile is changing, he said. Just last week, Show Dogs and Machine Coffee shut down at 6th and Market, and in early December, Boudin vacated its historic Market Street storefront after 26 years.

“I love old handpainted signs and the history they add,” Holden said. Newer restaurants and businesses have more modern signage, and that changes the backdrop of his photos.

Saturday is Holden's favorite day to shoot in the area, because "there is a great mix of locals and regulars and then tourists and people out shopping.” But the new weekday crowd's trickle-down effects on the neighborhood is ultimately changing his work, he said.

“I expect to have to change, with the colorful characters becoming fewer and farther in between," Holden said. "You can’t shoot what’s not there."

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