‘Dessert First!’ is a book of photographs taken with a few different cameras during the nine years I spent traveling North America. This book compiles photos of my best friends, artists who inspire me, people who touched my heart, my house in San Francisco, and so many places I will never forget. I have so many indelible memories.
A funny one I like to recall was a day when I was on my way to shoot an event at the SF Academy of Sciences and I decided to take the bus instead of biking, as I always used to do, thinking that it would be faster. But the bus I took crashed with a car on Castro street and, of course, I almost didn’t make it to the shoot on time.
There is a letter on the inside of my book that was written by John Ratliff, also known as Bird. He was an homeless poet who lived around 16th and Valencia streets during the eight years I lived in the Mission. There is a portrait of him as well, and I hope to give him a copy of the book if he is still around when I go back this year.
The Cameras and Film
I don’t remember all of them, but I know I used a Pentax Asahi K1000, a Canon AE and a of couple AE1s. One of them was a gift from an old friend who died and to whom I dedicated the penultimate photo – the one with the flowers – because that was the cemetery next to where he died.
I also shot with a Minolta XG1, a Pentax Asahi 6×7, a disposable camera from Walgreens (they would give you a free roll of film every time you were bringing one in to develop!), a Nikon AF and a Contax 3. Most of the lenses I used were 28mm or 50mm f/2.8, except the Pentax Asahi 6×7 which has a 55mm f/3.5 and a 105mm f/2.4.
The film I used is mostly Kodak Pro Image 100 and sometimes I pushed the film one or two stops. I love the warm tones that Kodak Pro-Image gives me, and it was affordable enough when I started taking photos in San Francisco in 2007. The disposable cameras had a 400iso film, but I can’t remember what brand they were.
I always had my film developed in SF Photoworks on Market street. During those first years they would also scan my film too. Then in 2011 I got a film scanner that changed my life – the process is faster, I don´t need to wait for a lab to do it because I do it on my own.
I have shot color for many years now. I love being in the lab and developing my own BW film but having space in SF to do so was always complicated. I had a lab on Folsom street in an art studio space called Merchants of Reality. Unfortunately, I was forced to close it because only one other person came to develop their film in the 180 days I had it open and free to the public. I realized that having a free lab open was pointless. Film photography wasn’t appreciated enough then.
When I closed the lab I tried to sell the & enlargers and everything else I owned. No one bought it in the 6 months that the post was up on Craigslist. I was selling the whole lab for just $200! In the end, I gave everything to a photography teacher friend who was working on a project with kids in The Mission – the neighborhood where I lived for 8 years and where many of these photos were shot.
I always shot more colour than BW but I love developing BW as well and I would probably have shot more BW in my first 9 years living in the States if I had a lab.
Why I Made the Book
When I started making this book I wanted to make a book through which those who saw it could see themselves and see me at the same time. I wanted to create a mirror, a reflection that was the expression of many people’s journey through life, and not just my own.
Friends and people who I don´t know have so far written to me saying beautiful things about the book. Today I got a message from a photojournalist in London telling me she got covid and that having my book in her hands is making her feel better… it makes my heart happy to read that! I feel very connected to this country – and now I am here again since I started living between Mexico and the States last year. Having my book published now and having the opportunity to present it in San Francisco soon is a gift!