By Noma Faingold
As a teenager, Dave Glass was fascinated with photography. A neighbor had a darkroom, and once Glass discovered the process, he had to create his own images.
“I thought it was like magic, how a photo could appear on a piece of paper,” he said. “I just wanted to do that magic myself.”
Glass, 70, a native San Franciscan, got his first camera, a Leica, from his father, who brought it from Germany. His parents were Holocaust survivors and met after the war in Germany, at what was referred to as a “displaced persons camp” near the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
Richmond District resident and native San Franciscan Dave Glass has been taking photos in SF and around the world for most of his 70 years. Photo by Rex Mandel.
Early on, Glass liked taking photos of cars. He still does. He almost exclusively photographs in black and white and uses film. He converts the negatives to a digital platform to make prints. He is a purist and considers himself more of a photojournalist, influenced by Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, Weegee, Helen Levitt and Ruth Orkin.
For many years he has captured his surroundings in the realest of ways, whether in the Richmond District where he lives, or in the Sunset, North Beach, Chinatown, the Castro and the Mission. He also took photos in Paris, Burma, Hong Kong and New Orleans.
“Now I’m doing a combination of documentary and street photography,” Glass said. “I’m photographing ordinary people in my own neighborhood. The houses we live in. The clothes we wear. The cars we drive. How people go about their daily lives. I try to make things appear as they actually are.”
Several times a week, Glass will ride his bicycle or motor scooter and approach people he wants to photograph. Before the COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders, Glass had a routine where he would go to North Beach and get a coffee at Caffe Trieste, grocery shop in Chinatown, shoot photos, then end the day with a bourbon at Vesuvio Café or Specs’ bar.
“That would be a full day,” Glass said. “I love the way those two neighborhoods overlap. It’s just so rich there. So authentic.”
Lately Glass stays closer to home, but he still manages to capture what is real. Neighbors are used to him asking for a photo. Most say yes. Some say no.
“I don’t sneak up on people. I try to gain a little trust,” he said. “I’ll ask to take their photo while they are working on their car, walking their dog or gardening. Sometimes, I just talk to them.”
With his wide-angle lens, he might literally shoot from the hip to keep it verité.
He loves being near Golden Gate Park and Ocean Beach, but he also finds beauty in the seemingly ordinary.
“I’m trying to capture the flavor of the Richmond and Sunset from my point of view,” Glass said. “Facing west, row after row of these pastel stucco houses while the sun is setting. The power poles, the corner stores. I can’t think of any place in world that looks like that.”
Glass insists he not an artist.
“I don’t want to be seen as an artist,” he said.
The City College of San Francisco graduate has been included in several group shows over the years and people do buy his work. What seems to still attract the most attention is a series of photos he took during the redevelopment of the Western Addition in the mid-1970s. Victorian homes were moved outside of the redevelopment boundaries, with some being eventually restored.
“It’s such a bizarre sight to see a narrow Victorian building being moved down the street,” said Glass.
Glass, who was an appliance repair man and later owned a laundromat/dry cleaning store, has been retired since 2009. He raised two children with his former wife and one with his longtime significant other, Becky Bradley, who lives in Petaluma. All of his children, Gina, 48, Judah, 46 and Simone, 33, still live in San Francisco.
For the past four years, Glass has been a member of a street photographer collective called the San Francisco City Photography Club. While he is the oldest in the group and is often seen as a mentor, he said his participation has given him new perspective.
“What’s important about this group of people is we challenge each other to be more creative, more poetic,” he said.
While COVID guidelines have limited close interactions with photographic subjects, Glass has remained productive since March, reorganizing his archives – both digital and physical files (more than 7,000 images). He has also made sure all his camera equipment (including his favorite vintage Nikon F2) is in top shape.
“When we get back to normal,” said Glass, “I’ll be ready for whatever comes.”
Photos by Dave Glass