Can S.F. photographer’s “warm and fuzzy” Web site conquer the world?
By Joe Eskenazi
“He was isolated.” “He didn’t know anybody.” “He kept to himself.” All of these descriptions are often tossed around in the wake of a neighborhood sniper incident (along with the jaw-droppingly intuitive “He wasn’t very neighborly”).
Well, David Gartner was isolated, didn’t know anybody, and kept to himself. So he decided to do something about it. He shot everyone in the neighborhood. But he didn’t just whip it out and plug them. First, he made them go through a bizarre ritual.
“Well, I’d just moved to San Francisco and this was just basically a way to meet my neighbors,” he admits. The 36-year-old photographer scrawled the lyrics to the classic Sesame Street refrain “People in Your Neighborhood” on a series of Bob Dylan “Don’t Look Back”-like cards and solicited his neighbors to participate in his photo project.
That was a dozen years ago, well before the advent of flash mobs, ubiquitous digital photography or, for better or worse, blogs. Some of Gartner’s neighbors played along and some didn’t. He printed –- yes, printed -– his photos, stuck them in a drawer, and forgot about them.
Until a few years ago, that is …
He scanned his shots, bought the URL shootyourneighbors.com, and posted them without any fanfare. Some of his friends and acquaintances contributed slideshows as well. Yet, for the most part, Gartner went on with his life and the project remained dormant. But, for reasons he can’t explain, Web traffic increased suddenly in recent weeks and shootyourneighbors.com began getting shoutouts on local San Francisco sites.
None of the local blogs mentioned Gartner’s role or rationale in founding the Web site, however, because he doesn’t mention it on the page. “I don’t do promotions on the site," he says. "The goal is to get people out to meet the people they see every day. You pass all these people and, a lot of times, photography is an excuse to interact with people.”
Obviously other people feel that way as well. Random folks have downloaded the lyrics and sent in photo montages of their own neighborhoods -– ranging from Australia to Korea to Athens (Athens, Ohio, that is).
A number of photographers have also tackled San Francisco’s myriad neighborhoods -– and yes, this guy with the newsboy cap is Craig Newmark from Craigslist (“Actually, everyone who lives in Cole Valley pretty much knows Craig. He’s been going to the same coffee shop for years,” Gartner says).
“Personally, I have no hopes for this project. If I get more photographic business, hey, fantastic,” sums up Gartner, who lives near Dolores Park.
“The big goal for the site is for people to meet their neighbors. I hope people start breaking down barriers and overcome their shyness by using this as a tool to meet the people they pass each day and never introduce themselves to.”
So, let’s give a big Sesame Street-style sendoff to Gartner (and feel free to sing along from your desk and blow your cover at work):
Oh, the altruistic photographer is a person in your neighborhood
In your neighborhood
He’s in your neighborhood
An altruistic photographer is someone in your neighborhood
A person that you meet each day!
Photos | David Gartner, Heather Champ, Derek Powazek, Chris Magyar and Kate Cuthbert