Every Saturday for about the last six months, members of the Sixth Street Photography Workshop have set up a camera in Cohen Alley, a Tenderloin dead-end formerly suited more to hooking and dealing drugs than to cultivating creativity, and offered free photo portraits to whoever would pose for them. The takers were locals without homes, money, or status, whose fortunes had earned them anonymity, and who were therefore a little suspicious of the attention. But they appreciated free stuff and recognized an opportunity. So they posed. They brought friends, family members, costume changes, and good spirits. The photographers' idea was to coax the beauty out of people whose lives, in some cases, had all but beaten the beauty out of them, and to offer them some leverage against obscurity. It worked.The resulting pictures, two dozen of which are now on display at the 509 Cultural Center in the exhibit "Photography in Cohen Alley," give viewers the sense of living among people for whom the very notion of posterity is a luxury. For a moment the subjects have allowed themselves that luxury, and the glimmer of pride is contagious. The photographs are not snapshots; however fleeting the moments they document, the overall aesthetic implies an intention to endure.
"It was a little thing, but it felt really big for a lot of people," says Amanda Herman, the project coordinator. She recalls being told that the workshop helped people appreciate themselves. Such is the true motive behind Sixth Street's decade-long mission to teach photography to low-income residents of the city's most depressed neighborhoods. Last year, when the 509 Cultural Center bought Cohen Alley and transformed it into a "gated alley for art," it was with projects like this in mind. The series of 16-by-20-inch black-and-white prints presents an amazing array of faces -- and the façades of the alley itself, its expressive textures revealed through varied focus, plays of light, and angles.
Such ventures inevitably risk a kind of social-studies condescension, but this one is vividly personal and never too artfully detached. The people in these pictures are people, not merely "The Dignified Poor." And as Herman points out, "No one's credited with each photograph because it's such a collaborative thing." If in this image-conscious age it's true that we're all posers, nothing deserves exhibit space more than the dignity of genuine self-expression. It's available here. See the show at the 509 Cultural Center, 509 Ellis (at Leavenworth), S.F. Admission is free; call 778-4007. -- Jonathan Kiefer
Where have all the ravers gone? On much-anticipated 4/20 (tee hee), they'll take their neon-tinted fake-fur clothing and their black-light body paint to the How Weird Street Faire. All are welcome, as long as you're into elaborately costumed stilt-walkers, psychedelic trance tracks, and "promot[ing] harmony by expanding our collective consciousness." Do your thing at 12th and Howard streets from noon to 8 p.m. Admission is $2-4; call 703-0312 or visit www.howweird.org. -- Hiya Swanhuyser
Two events in the Tenderloin in one week? Get out! The city's grittiest 'hood is also its liveliest with Tenderloin Tessie's Holiday Dinners. The annual presentation of home-cooked meals has become a much-anticipated tradition for volunteers and recipients alike. After the Easter bonnet comes off, we can get out and give back to the community this way. Volunteers for kitchen and setup duties are needed from 4 to 7 p.m. on Saturday. Folks who can dish it out -- literally -- are needed to serve Easter dinner from 1 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, and the cleanup crew works from 3 to 6 that day, at the First Unitarian Universalist Church, 1187 Franklin (at Geary), S.F. Call 431-7221. -- Lisa Hom
Outside magazine is about adventure travel and the great outdoors, so it's no surprise that it's sponsoring a film festival called the Elements of Adrenaline. The action-packed event features three movies by kayaker Scott Lindgren: Outta Africa follows kayakers through the wilds of Africa; Burning Time chronicles a back-country ski trip from British Columbia to Alaska; and 24 showcases the dangerous sport of BASE-jumping. Visit www.outsideonline.com/elementsofadrenaline. -- Lisa Hom