Only in San Francisco

Photographer Clint Thayer spent the past week in San Francisco to attend DrupalCon. Before the onslaught of all things technical, he took two days to photograph the breath, rhythms, and life of the city. Here, he shares his thoughts.

Creativity requires contemplation, and contemplation requires time. It's important to retreat on occasion from the normal daily workload to focus on new and experimental concepts that are outside of life’s normal reach. These breaks also allow the mind time to wander and stretch.

In that vein, I’m pleased to share my most recent experimental photo wanderings – conducted as I literally wandered through San Francisco, CA.  During this trip, my goal was to walk outside the comfort of my traditional subject matter, while at the same time applying experience gleaned during the last year of shooting.

I decided to focus on two subjects: strangers, and architecture, each within context of the unique culture of San Francisco.  The following images are a brief photo essay showing the product of this work. Please feel free to navigate to the gallery using the link at the bottom of the post to view additional images.

This photograph was taken in the Mission district area where specific allyways are considered fair game for artistic expression. I loved the angles, lines, and juxtaposition of the street art below the upper-middle-class housing.


Walking along the tourist area on the wharf allowed the opportunity to capture some great images of street vendors and artists.  The artist in this image exuded calmness while seated in his "home."  While not visible here, a further study of his work revealed a deep level of detail and passion.  When I walked around to face him he was wide awake, and just smiled at me.  He was rich on life, and he knew it.

In studying the impact of people on place and vice versa, I sought out areas in the city that are usually densely populated, but for some reason, were void at the moment.  This empty street car is such a setting.

This image is one that will stick with me for a very long time.  While walking from point A to B, I happened to walk by the well-known Hippy Hill in Golden Gate park.  The hill had abundant imagery, but this drum circle was the nexus of the activity.  One by one, people would walk into the circle and start to dance.  Dancers would spur drummers, and drummers would spur dancers in a back-and-forth symbiotic relationship.  This homeless man in the wheelchair joined in with exuberance.

I took this image within the Height-Ashbury district.  It forces the viewer to have to make a conclusion about the woman in the foreground who is leaning against the building with very limited information.  What do you think she is doing?  You might be surprised.

After spending two days walking around San Francisco, one thing is clear - this city is rich in architecture imagery.  I wanted to try to capture the feeling I had walking up and down the hills looking up at townhouse after townhouse.  Rows of these unique boxes are staggered across the city.

If you would like to see more images in this series, please take a look at the gallery Only in San Francisco.  As always, feel free to leave a comment, or share this page on Facebook or other social networks with the button below.  If you are not already a fan of the Focal Flame Facebook page, or follow us on Twitter, it's time to jump in with both feet!

Cultivating the Good Eye

Clint Thayer recently spent two days at a workshop on Miksang Photography, a contemplative form of photography. In this interview, he shares his thoughts about what he has learned and practiced.

Q: Tell me a little about Miksang and the workshop you attended.

It was a two-day workshop from the Shambhala Meditation Center of Madison. It was an introduction to Level I Miksang photography.
Miksang is a Tibetan word meaning “good eye”. The practice of Miksang really breaks down the core elements of subject matter into a number of different groupings. In Level I, you focus one by one on color, texture, pattern, light, space, and “dot in space”. The latter two used to actually be considered Level II subject matter, but for reasons unknown to me these are now included in Level I.
Miksang photography was founded in 1983 by Canadian photographers Michael Wood and John McQuade, based on the teachings of a Buddhist scholar.

Q: How did you first hear about it? What attracted you to this form of photography?


I had seen a Miksang photography art show at the Overture Center in Madison (interviewer’s note: the show runs through April 4, 2010). It really resonated with me. The description of the approach as well as the images in the show echoed some of my core values about fine art photography – which is, essentially, finding beauty in the mundane. Being mindful to look out for things that are so unique but that – when we’re busy and unthinking – we walk past.
Miksang is about the celebration of being in the present moment with your subject matter. Being mindful of the fact that there is beauty in everything – in the simplest of colors, the simplest of textures, patterns.
You can photograph something very simple, but yet the way that you compose the photo results in an intensely powerful image. And I think the reason why I like folks that are doing Miksang is that they’re celebrating that. They’re challenging themselves to find those times in life when you can go out and look at the world through the lens of a camera with that perspective.

Q: Do you have any Miksang projects in the works? Where do you see this going in the future?

Since it was an introductory course, the obvious next step would be to research and study

Level II. There are three levels of Miksang altogether.

Q: Do you think this style will influence your approach to sports photography, or will it mainly inform fine art photography?

No, I think it influences everything. I think it inspires a photographer and challenges them to look at things not with more complexity, but with less complexity.

Q: Is the Miksang approach an effort to make things abstract, or more realistic?

In a lot of level I Miksang, images are very abstract, especially some of the color and texture images. When you start showing more elements of light, and space, and “dot in space”, then the natural world tends to creep in, because you’re backing away from the subject matter to allow more light, texture, pattern.
The best way to describe it – as the instructor articulated - is that it’s as if you’re walking along and a field opens to your left and there is an immaculate sunrise or sunset and you stop and think, “That is a beautiful image, a beautiful scene.” Your mind stops its constant chatter and dialog. Everything is just attuned to that scene.

The study of Miksang photography is about finding those moments in anything and everything you see. A shadow, a color, an object in space. It’s about finding those moments and letting those moments hit you – calming your mind so that it is open to the experience.

Q: So it’s really more of a philosophy of life than just an approach to photography?

Yes, absolutely. 

To learn more about Miksang Photography, visit The Miksang Institute online at

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"Tangles" on Display at CPM Members Show

At first view, the image shows a network of tendrils. Lines enmesh with one another, spontaneously interwoven until the thin strands create something substantial. “Many people ask me if it’s a beard, if it’s hair, but almost everybody asks me what it is – which I really like,” said Clint Thayer. “I think it’s also a good representation of negative space. The deep blacks, and the highlights.”
Currently on display at the University of Wisconsin Hospital as part of the Member’s Show of the Center for Photography at Madison, “Tangles” is a black and white macro photograph. While many viewers are unsure of the exact identity of the subject, most guess that it is organic and living – which, as it turns out, is exactly the case. “It’s the root structure of a plant that was growing at Olbrich Botanical Gardens,” said Clint. A personal favorite, Clint finds the image to be particularly symbolic. “I named it ‘Tangles’ in part because for me, at that time in my life, it symbolized how interconnected things are. I would have to say there’s this sense of peace I have when looking at it; it’s a reminder that things are connected, and if you make a change here, you make a change everywhere.”

The annual show by CPM members includes over 50 works and is on display from March 10 until April 15 at the C5/2 Surgical Waiting Skylight Lounge at the UW Hospital, located at 600 Highland Avenue in Madison, Wisconsin. “I was very impressed with the work on display.” said Clint. “All the photos are for sale, as well.”
Original prints of “Tangles” are available for purchase.  Print runs are limited to ten prints in each of five sizes.

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