San Fran's Jeffrey Gerson Uses Instagram to Re-Discover the City
For my four years in college, I lived just 35 miles south of San Francisco. Still I hardly ever made it into the city because, on the rare occasion we had a free weekend, it was difficult to convince anyone to join me on the walk to the off-campus train station or, if someone had a car, to justify gas on our student budgets.
But upon graduation last spring, I happily moved to San Francisco—into a beautiful subdivided Victorian with two roommates—and immediately made the city my new home. I found my routines and I loved them. Instead of the "out-of-reach" city I'd known, San Francisco became functional: it had its restaurants, farmers' markets, stores, and coffee shops (oh god, such good coffee shops). But in becoming my home, the city also lost some of its allure, and I lost some of my wide-eyed anticipation of a new adventure every time I stepped onto one of its streets. So I resolved to bring some of that excitement back into my life by exploring everything the city had to offer… even though I had no idea where to start.
Click here to see Instagram photos of Jeffrey Gerson's San Francisco adventures.
The first thing I learned—and learned fast—about adventure is that it's tough to go it alone. I spent a day wandering through the endless galleries of the Asian Art Museum. It was a powerful experience—you learn a lot about yourself when you spend hours starting in the faces of stone Buddhas. But that wasn't the connection to the city I was looking for. I needed a community to guide my wanderings.
My coworker at the time, Dan, knew I had an interest in photography. He invited me out to a photography meet-up at the Palace of Fine Arts where, apparently, San Francisco's community of fire dancers and spinners practices once a month. We arrived at the rotunda just after the sun had set and were greeted by the sounds of clicking shutters, whooshing flames, and a steady wub-wub from the dancers' dubstep tracks. This was what I wanted; this was one of the hidden pockets of magic I knew the city held. We both started shooting photos with our DSLR camera setups, adjusting exposures, tripods, and f-stops while the spinners twirled their flames. In my excitement the night before, however, I'd forgotten to check my batteries, and no more than five minutes in, they died. Instead, I pulled out my phone and kept shooting, much to the amusement of the photographers around me.
At the end of the night, I shared the photos on Instagram (they were already on my phone, so why not?). And as the likes and comments started to roll in, I realized I'd stumbled upon my community. There were hosts of other photographers who were exploring the city, uploading their photos everywhere from mountaintops to underground tunnels. I wanted to go where they'd been, to see what they'd seen.
Dan and I decided to try and carve out a time each weekend to explore. He, being a far more professional photographer than I, suggested that we go out at sunrise to capture better lighting—and I begrudgingly agreed. So, a week later, I groggily dragged myself into his car at 5:30 a.m. to photograph a 40-foot-tall steel sculpture that vibrates with the wind: South San Francisco's Aristides Demetrios Wind Harp. It was dark, it was cold, and none of my photos were coming out well—so much for magic. But we stuck it out and I started to explore different perspectives, taking photos from inside, around and even far away from the Harp. I found myself having a lot of fun, and by the time the sun started to come up, the magic was back.
In the past few months, I've been to redwood forests, shipwrecks, retired Burning Man sculptures, and even played tourist on a van tour through San Francisco. But the trick to unlocking my city was more than making it through a checklist of interesting places; I needed to find new ways to look at and build creative relationships with my surroundings. I think of adventure now not as just a series of weekend trips, but as a continuing process of building and strengthening my ties to my city.
Jeffrey Gerson currently lives in foggy San Francisco, where he works on the Instagram Community Team. To follow along on Jeffrey's adventures, follow him on Instagram: @jeffreydgerson