WNP503: Michael Jang
Nicole: [00:00:00] It’s Outside Lands San Francisco, podcast of Western Neighborhoods Project. Your weekly dose of friendly neighborhood history.
Hello Outside Landers. I'm Nicole Meldahl and it's great to be with you again this week for a very, a very special live podcast recording at the 4 Star Theater to celebrate WNP's 24th birthday party. And live podcast means live audience. Can you let the listeners hear you folks?
Nicole: Hello Arnold.
Arnold: Hello Nicole. We're doing a little bit different thing tonight,
Nicole: Just a smidge. Just a smidge. I'm not on a Zoom. We're not in a zoom room. We're in a real [00:01:00] room.
Arnold: With real people.
Nicole: Scary. And you're just here to get us settled because I'm a nervous Nancy.
Arnold: Absolutely. But I'm gonna walk away here very shortly.
Arnold: I'm gonna hand over this microphone to, I believe we have a very special guest tonight. And who would that be?
Nicole: One of my favorite local photographers. His name, well, let's just hold that for a second. Maybe you've seen his joyous wheat pastes around the Clement Street area. Or maybe you've casually just seen his work at SFMOMA. Either way, we're really punching above our weight class here because Michael Jang is in the house.
Arnold: No need for kids this week.
Nicole: No, and with that incredible intro, Arnold is gonna fade away into the fog.
Arnold: I'll be back [00:02:00] later.
Nicole: Yes, you will. Arnold.
Michael: Thanks Arnold.
Nicole: Welcome Michael.
Michael: Can everyone hear this?
Michael: I gotta whisper a little bit.
Nicole: So, I have in my notes here that we're supposed to talk up, we're just supposed to have witty, witty banter now.
Michael: So, the banter I can do. Witty?
Nicole: Oh, I think you'll do just fine. I mean, this is gonna be a very casual conversation. We're a casual kind of organization.
Nicole: Which, I'm so sorry you know that now. But, but, you know, I think maybe a good thing to talk about might be your photography.
Nicole: Yeah. So, I'm so interested with any photographer, well, maybe first for people who don't know in the audience, what is the like three second elevator pitch of who is Michael Jang?
Michael: That's pretty broad, especially since it's been going on for technically 50 years, since I was in school at Cal Arts in [00:03:00] ‘72. That's a long time to be doing this. And I'd like to say that a life in photography has been an amazing place to have spent my whole life. Because your memory fades, but you've always got the photographs. So, I've always been able to go back and look at stuff and go, wow, I met that person, or I was there. And it's just a fabulous way to go. Not to mention that, like a fine wine, those photographs have really aged very well. Think about this. Imagine you took pictures of your family, and I'm gonna say it, a Chinese family, 50 years ago, and they're super relevant now, 50 years later. Are we okay? I'm hearing an echo. Does that still sound okay to you guys?
Michael: Okay. Cause I'm hearing that, yeah. Yep. Awesome. Okay. So, I wanna say that, in the [00:04:00] beginning, when the photos were created, they were created as a student and I was in my twenties. And I just shot pictures of my family. And that's me, a selfie in ‘72. Hooker's Ball, San Francisco. And so, I took the pictures, but then as homework assignments and then boxed them, put 'em away for 30 years.
And then I had heard that you could drop a portfolio off at the San Francisco Museum of Art. I did this 50, 30 years later and I thought, I can take rejection now. You know, I'm older and I just said, what are they gonna do? Call me to come pick 'em up. So, I dropped 'em off and then they, I expected to get a phone call saying, come pick 'em up. But they said, we'd like to talk to you. So, it was an amazing meeting to say the least. And they kind of [00:05:00] said, where have you been? We should know about you. You should have a Guggenheim grant or, you know, exhibitions or books. And I said, I didn't know they were any good. So, it, it's kind of like that. I think also, read between the lines there, there really wasn't much for a Chinese 20-year-old photographer to have role models out there, you know? So, I thought no big deal. Life is like that. You just gotta power through in your own way. So, I had fun doing ‘em. I still do, but I don't sweat it and I don't go begging.
So, it's been an amazing journey of enjoying taking the pictures in the first place as a, what they call a gelatin silver print. You know, perfect little prints that are originally meant to be seen, framed and on a white wall with lights. And actually now, those vintage prints are in museums. But fast forward 50 years and [00:06:00] now there's xeroxes on walls in the city. I think I've stumbled across a way to reach a wider audience, a new demographic. The demographic is no longer an artsy crowd or photographers, to tell you the truth. But I, kids, teens, adults, seniors across the board, when you see this on the streets and come across it as a surprise, something has been happening over the last two or three years.
And I did this during the pandemic every, remember that first year how bad it was? Even though galleries and museums were open, nobody wanted to go. So, I thought, well, I'm not gonna be a casualty. So, I decided with some friends to start pasting some things up [00:07:00] on boarded up storefronts. It wasn't defacing any businesses or anything, cause they were just temporary. And it got to be a interesting thing. So, I know I'm rambling, so let's just say, what was the question?
Nicole: Oh, I don't even remember.
Michael: It's gonna be like this the whole evening. Okay.
Nicole: Oh, that's not a ramble, Michael.
Michael: Oh, yeah it is.
Nicole: That's an incredibly powerful start to our podcast, I think. Oh, but I agree, the visibility that your work has now out on Clement Street is so incredible. There's so much joy and action that comes out of your still photographs, just in general, but happening upon it and seeing a family experiencing joy is just so incredible. And I'm wondering why you picked Clement Street.
Michael: Oh, I think the first one we did, by the way my trustee assistant Brett, Brent Wilson, is here. Stand up just briefly. [00:08:00]
Michael: He'll be outside and if you wanna know the total dirt, just corner him. And he has my permission to tell you all. So, I'm sorry, what was, where were we?
Nicole: So why did you pick Clement Street?
Michael: I lived two blocks from the Goodwill.
Nicole: Oh, well that's, there you go.
Michael: It was, it's as simple as that. And so, oh, so here's the thing. Think about this at, we all know generally for the last 40 years what street art is, you know, what you spray paint or whatever. So, imagine I'm in that arena. It's not spray paint, but I'm putting stuff up. It was a 40-foot stretch of wall at the old Goodwill at Clement and 10th. Within a year, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art commissioned me to do that in their museum. [00:09:00] Just think about that. Street art done for free, get a commission to repeat it in the museum. So, I said, oh, I think I'm onto something. Right? And so, it's emboldened to me to keep going and with a feeling that, boy, I'm just gonna do whatever I, my instincts tell me to do as an artist.
That's the gift that you want to be able to work free. And at my age, over 70 now, it's a big deal not to work, have to work for money over fortune or fame. These are the motivators that will drive you when you're 20 and 30 and 40, you know, climbing, and they affect your actions. Right now, I could care less about any of that stuff. I wanted to reach the people. And that's put this whole project [00:10:00] into an amazing, almost a phenomenon. Guess how did I start in this community? So, it was just close and then I think we went into Chinatown because of my family. And I actually tried to get arrested there to get a photo. The cops were down with it. So, I said, okay, that's interesting too, you know, and so, yeah, I'm like a made man in Chinatown, you know?
Nicole: I mean, everyone appreciates good art, right? Even if it's illegal, good art. And you, it's not like you just randomly put things on the side of a building, right? You scope out your locations with care.
Michael: I try to have fun with it and to sometimes work with the text or the wording around the walls. Like there's been some closed down portrait studios. So, of course, I'm gonna put some portraits up. There's some, a couple of optometrists that are closed. I've had fun with [00:11:00] nerdy ‘70s glasses photos. And there's a couple of restaurants. So, I've had little fun with my Chef Jang thing. So, yeah, I, but this is all morphed from putting up straight, still black and white images, which is where it started, to me evolving the project to being more collage-like and having more fun with it and not being so precious anymore about me, or my photography. It’ss more about, this is what's happened.
It's been very interesting. These pictures were taken in the ‘70s, generally almost 40 or 50 years ago. I'm reappropriating my own pictures. I'm putting them out as Xeroxes on the walls. Copies of my pictures. People then take a picture of my picture [00:12:00] as their picture. They think it's their photograph. It is. They then post it on social media. They then tag me. I see it. I then repost their tag. You get what I'm, where I'm going. It's become a cycle and it's taken them a couple of years and it's a thing. Now, if you think about it, for an artist of any medium to have your work photographed so much by people. It's just an amazing phenomenon to happen. As artists, most artists I imagine, you want your work to be remembered and generally you think in museums is the place to go. And you know, I have a little bit of that. Books. But photographs will live on [00:13:00] forever.
If you think about, what are the most, what artworks of art we think are gonna be around forever? Statues, you know, stuff, well, even those things are starting to fall, right? But what lives on are the photographs of those statues. So even if it's politically incorrect now for some people and they're getting taken down, or war, the photographs live on. So, I have figured out to, for my work to live on, it'll exist in so many people's archives of their own photography. And when I'm long gone, this stuff is gonna be around.
Nicole: I'm just crying over here. Don't mind me. Well, I think that's what makes you so amazing though, Michael, is you really do want the people to absorb your art. That's why you put it out there. That's not how everybody feels about their archive, right? Like some people like, like the, you know, ivory tower of museums as their main point of, I don't know, explaining someone's worth. [00:14:00] And we're the same way. We like history for the people, you know, and I think that's why I connected with your photography so immediately, but also because you've elevated, by the way listeners, podcast listeners, there's a rolling screen behind us of all of Michael's incredible photography. So, if you hear people laughing or if you hear Michael make a comment, that's what that is. But you have photos of your family, the Jangs from 1973, but that's not the only subject matter you've covered in your career. We were commenting, attendees tonight, about the incredible lineup of famous people that you've had at your disposal over the years. How is it that you were in the room with Lucille Ball or Jack Lemmon or some of the other celebrities we saw pass by us earlier tonight.
Michael: So, you're a little kid growing up in Marysville, California, population 9,000, and the only window to the world is a black and white TV set. I Love Lucy, Father [00:15:00] Knows Best, John Wayne, right? So fast forward to another 10 years or so and I'm in Los Angeles going to art school at Cal Arts, and I take my first photo class. And I didn't know what to shoot. So, I found myself at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. And that's where the first one was Bowie. He was out front and I said, oh. So, I shot him and there was like 10 or 20 autograph seekers there, and I started talking to them and they told me, hey, do you know that every Saturday night there's a major movie star event here? I thought, really? So, I think I went there once and it was a party for Frank Sinatra. So, I crashed that I put on a suit and tie and sneaked in through the back door, through, I saw these waiters going in, from the lobby, and the door, and I just put my head down, followed them, and I ended up in the kitchen. Okay, step one, I'm in the kitchen. Then from the kitchen, they went into another door, so I followed them and [00:16:00] okay, I'm in the main ballroom, okay. So, and don't forget I'm a 19-year-old kid. And then, there's a table that says press. I said, okay, and filet mignon dinner. So, I was in, and that night was every movie star in the world was there for Frank. You didn't say no to Frank. So, I guess I did, I may, it may seem like I saw a lot of people, but sometimes it was just two or three events. I make the most out of every time I take pictures. I get a lot of shit. I have a good ratio.
Nicole: You know, before I was running this joint, I started as a music journalist when I was in college, and I'd, kind of the same thing. I just started calling myself a music journalist and going up to shows and saying, well, you know, am, I'm on the list. I'm pretty sure I'm on the list. I'm a blogger. And in 2006, that was like, pretty cool. But anyways, I appreciate your vibe is what I'm [00:17:00] saying.
Michael: One of the stories that It is kind of out there, but you'd have to really follow me, it was the, at that time, I made fake press passes. So, I got a New York Times, a Rolling Stone, and a San Francisco Chronicle, I figured that would cover the general needs. And so, I photographed him, reduced it down, took up. Mugshot and put it there. I drew some lines and I literally scribbled the editor's name. I wrote press pass on there. I laminated it. And from back then, that was a big move. And yeah, that's how I got into stuff.
Nicole: Well, I didn't have access to a laminating machine, but, but same ethos, definitely. So, you're photographing celebrities. You come back to San Francisco.
Nicole: And you start photographing your family.
Nicole: How did your family feel about that? Were they like, oh, here he is again with his camera?
Michael: Oh, that's a good [00:18:00] question. In real time, as you know, you get the hand with your family. It wasn't easy. Also, if you really look at the pictures, I see we're on a loop here, but they're not flattering. I mean, when it comes to humor, I go for the jugular. And, in good conscience, I just said, okay, I won't use these. I put 'em away for 30 years. I figured them going into the museum, that's off limits to you guys, I'm going in. But later when there was a book, and there's one I think out in the lobby, Who is Michael Jang, I wrote my cousins and family. I said, look, here's your last chance. If you really don't like these, let me know. No problem. It's family. Right? You know what they said? They said, oh my God, they love them now. They love their pets they no longer have. They scream [00:19:00] at their shag rugs in the bathroom. So yeah, and sometimes people are no longer with us. That was 50 years ago. So, sometimes you just have to work and do your thing and be patient.
Nicole: I mean, I saw that you now have a piece at the Art Institute of Chicago and it's one of your family members. And like, how incredible that you have this level of permanence, like your family will be remembered not, far beyond you and far beyond them. That there's power in that and it's so beautiful that you're getting the recognition you finally deserve, and your family's getting that space.
Michael: Like I said, in real time, it was not appreciated. So, it had to, I don't know, it was that combination of just, oh, I guess it's art or, yeah, we kind of see what you are doing. We see it now. But in real time, it's like Aunt Lucy when she was [00:20:00] watering her plants, she said, those plants look ugly. Or my uncle's golf swing, he said that was a bad swing. I get it, but I'm not gonna photograph perfection. You know? Diane Arbus said something, she only saw a fault. That's what made her go. Now, I'm not saying that's what I did, or I'm not even saying that quote is perfect. But I kind of get it. Something, we tend to see the fault. You know, you look at something and you go, ah, there's the problem. So, I think for me, I just photographed what I instinctively thought would make an interesting photo and it wasn't, it was more humor, I think, than looking for a fault. Cause look, I'm equal opportunity. If you see the pictures of me, I'm looking pretty nerdy and stuff with my glasses, so all good. [00:21:00]
Nicole: You know, Ansel Adams talked a lot about how when you look at a photograph, you actually see the photographer and not so much what's being photographed, at least he does. He puts his heart and soul into every photograph he takes, and that comes through in your photography so, so much. I knew you were gonna be a great interview, because your photographs have so much personality to them. And it's…
Michael: I think I just read yesterday, Avedon’s, because of those pictures of mostly portraits, he said, they're not portraits of these people. They're portraits of me. I thought, wow.
Nicole: And since we're getting photo, photographer nerdy, and I know we've got some pretty amazing photographers in the house.
Nicole: I won't out you, but you know, we're gonna talk about that later. What, what cameras do you use? What's your equipment like? Let's get into the nerd stuff here.
Michael: Fair question. I think something that has to be realized is that people will always, number one, think of me as a photographer, but I did that [00:22:00] for maybe the first 10 or 20 years. It's been 50 years now. Now, if you think about it, just because maybe you're even pretty good at something, especially in your twenties, that doesn't mean you have to do it for the next 50 years. You know, Robert Frank did The Americans for a few years. And that was it. Think about that. That was a lifetime career that he did collages, he did films, you know, all kinds of stuff. And I, not to put myself in, you know, his company, but I guess what I'm saying is, I was a photographer, but now I'm feel like it's more morphing. I'm not quite ready to leave that, because the basis is, are my images. But it's tending more toward multimedia collage. Yeah. So…
Nicole: So, you're not gonna tell us what camera you used?
Michael: Oh, [00:23:00] well, right now?
Nicole: Yeah, sure.
Michael: Probably my iPhone.
Nicole: This podcast was not brought to you by Apple. I promise you. We'd be much better funded.
Michael: But yeah, I have my original gosh, Leica M2 still, that I shot all that good stuff with. I bought it used and just fell in love with the Leica. It's become a thing now for street photographers. Almost like you have to have a Leica. I'm not sure about that. I think if you're, if you have a vision and the will, your brand of camera isn't gonna make or break you. You're gonna get out there, get out there and do it. So, but still, whatever it takes for you to stay motivated, stay inspired, and for you to feel like you have everything that you need to get what you want, go for it. [00:24:00] They're really expensive. Now, do you know what Leica’s cost?
Nicole: Yes. You did. I do. I tried to get one from my boyfriend and he did not get a Leica.
Michael: I, yeah.
Nicole: But you know, it is an exceptional machine, definitely. And we, so one of the reasons we wanted to have you here tonight is, well, we've already gone over, we love your photography. It is in the neighborhood, and we love that. You can walk out of here tonight and see a Michael Jang. But also, and I know we have them in the house, we have Palma Yu and Steve Haines here. Somewhere. I can't see, oh, there they are. Yes. So, these two amazing human beings were part of or led the charge of Chinese In The Richmond, which is debuting on, what's the date Palma?
Palma: May 24th.
Nicole: May 24th at One Richmond. So, this was very much something that was on our mind is daylighting the lives of Chinese-Americans in the Richmond District. Incredible. Go see it and then go see some Michael [00:25:00] Jangs out on Clement Street. But also, because we're trying to get history out onto the street as well. That's our whole thing. We wanna have fun with history, the way you have fun with photography. We want to, it to be accessible in a way that isn't traditional. We just wanna have fun. Are we having fun here tonight?
Nicole: And it's uniquely San Franciscan. And I know you've had some unique San Francisco experiences. Maybe you'd like to share some of those with us.
Michael: Well, what's your website and Instagram profile? What it's all about is seeing all these beautiful vintage prints daily, right? And you can learn a lot from that and reminisce and all that. But in terms of my history in San Francisco, boy, I'll try to give it to you in two minutes for, with 50 years. So, imagine the Giants come out in the late [00:26:00] ‘50s from New York. Candlestick Park and I'm nine. I found a snapshot I took of Willie Mays that I took of him at age nine. 1961, there was an All-Star game here. I went to that. 1962, they were in the World Series with the Yankees. I went to Game 7. Couple a year or two later, my mom took us to the Beatles concert at Candlestick.
Michael: The last one. Okay, so off to a good start. Then we go through, right away, being a kid, a 15 year old kid in San Francisco, and I have to say maybe it was the center of the music, rock music world with Bill Graham in the Fillmore. I remember seeing Cream, Hendrix, the Doors, for $3 and it was their first album, [00:27:00] first or second album. You know, how pure that is? Not their fifth or tenth. But, and you could go to the Fillmore, and I don't know the capacity if it was 800 or a thousand, but you just got in line at 5:00 if you were really geeky and sit up front in the first row. So, transitioning from seeing the Beatles on second base with no speakers, but the PA system to, and then, you know, that clean act and they were, it was still fine, but it was a rip off. It was the famous 30-minute concert and then they quit. That was the, but at the Fillmore, you could get up there and imagine my first time, I'm like, the Cream come on. And that first album, they looked kind of conservative. It was called Fresh Cream. And they just had kind of regular haircuts and stuff and Clapton, and they came out with big afros and psychedelic guitars and a stack of Marshall amps behind [00:28:00] them. And they were loud. And there was nothing like that for a kid to see that. So, that and Hendrix at the same time. Was just, okay, this is good.
I remember being too young to be in a band. So, I started a light show because I would go up and watch those old hippie guys doing that. And I started my own light shows and I actually got into the Fillmore with Bill Graham and he paid me cash in his office afterwards. So that's, that’s my story about that. Fast forward, I go away to school, then I come back to the Art Institute. And there was a punk scene going on. So, I happened to photograph, I went to the Sex Pistols’ last concert at Winterland. That was their very last one. I somehow bumped into him the next morning. Cause, at the Miyako Hotel, because I was hired to photograph the employee of the month. [00:29:00]
Michael: So, I'm all, got my camera bag and flash, and I'm walking in and Johnny Rotten is in the bar all alone. He's got like three or four beers and smoking cigarettes. I had no idea what happened. I said, “hey Johnny, I enjoyed your performance last night.” And he said, “I don't perform.”
Michael: Okay. Off to a great start, Mike. But I asked him if I could shoot and I did. And fabulous pictures. You know, the Ramones give a free concert in Civic Center. I used my fake press pass to get into that one, so I got some shots backstage.
So, you know, fast forward to the Golden Gate Bridge. There's a well-known shot now that's at the museum with, it was totally full. It was their 50th anniversary. One thou, the one where it just got packed. So, I've worked for, you know, magazines, newspapers, and things like that. So, as a [00:30:00] photographer, I've had a pretty rich and fun time.
Nicole: The two things I'm sad I missed, I moved here in 2002, was the beatnik scene in 1950s. Missed it by a little bit. But also the punk scene in the 1980s. Also, I was not born yet. But those are the two things in history…
Nicole: Sorry. I'm sorry. Those two things historically I'm upset about missing. But, but we, I mean, what do you think experiencing things like this, I mean, not everyone gets to be this up and close with music history like that. Do you think that inspired you? Because I know when I saw epic concerts in my younger life, I was like, I wanna remember this forever. I wanna learn how to take photographs. And I'm not a photographer, I'm a photo taker, which is different. But I, like, I have this impulse. I have to take a photo of things at all times, and I think it's because I've had access to really inspiring, unique situations. Do you feel like maybe your history impacted your desire to [00:31:00] take photographs?
Michael: No. I live in the moment. And it's now, since we're talking, I, and recently I've had time to reflect, and the one thing getting back to maybe our ideas about history, is that after seven decades, you're able to see the stages that you've been through. And especially in the art world or the concept. When you're younger, you just do it. But now I have a really good idea what to do. I think I've got it figured out in terms of, no, not only am I doing this work, but I know where it's going, what I have to do, and, you know, just in order to make it work even more. So, that [00:32:00] perspective comes only you know, with time.
Nicole: And it must be, I can't even imagine what it feels like to look back on an archive like yours, but you've been through many phases in your career, this being one of them. However, when you look at all your photographs from, you know, many different eras, you can see you, you are the constant in every single one. And so, there's a continuity of vision and composition, even if the subject matter's changing or maybe why you took photographs internally changed over time. And I think that's what's so incredible about exceptional photographers like you, is you can teach someone how to use a camera, but you can't teach someone how to take a photo.
Michael: That reminds me of something I like to say. I used to say without the camera, I would just be home watching TV. You all, we all have experienced this. We are consumers, right? We watch films, we watch TV, we do our work, we raise families. We [00:33:00] are part of families. But we rarely put out content, you know, the stuff that we consume. And I thought, nah. Let's be fair about this. Let's put something back. So, I think I was just always thinking about working and using the camera as an excuse to get out of the house and do something, just a sense of adventure. So, whether I snaked into events or just went to things for fun, it was a sense of just, you know, get off your rear and get out there and do something.
Nicole: I have a friend who's a photographer and, you know, they talk a lot about the glass lens being between you and the subject sometimes. And so, I asked him about that and he said, no, like taking photographs is how I connect with people. It's how I meet people. It brings me out of myself, cause he's a shy person. Do you find that you are able to come out of yourself?
Michael: Okay. Not to say that person is, was wrong, but I don't want to [00:34:00] connect people that I'm shooting. I'm hit and run. There's more to say about that, but I think I'll leave it at that.
Nicole: I mean, every photographer is really different, right? That's a great point.
Michael: You know what it's, I, I used to, again, I joke. This is not a joke. This is the sad truth. So, getting back to that TV analysis, analogy. We sit and watch TV, right? So, we're looking at a box of screen and there's moving images. I remember when I was, I first got the camera, I would go out with this Leica in L.A. and would look through it and it'd be like I was watching TV, shooting pictures. I don't know if you can understand that. I blocked the world out and I was just walk like, moving like a shark, you know, just to stay alive, just looking hungry. My visually hungry to shoot anything, and I developed a sense of where the apex [00:35:00] of an event or a photograph would be. You see it shaping? You go, not yet. Not yet. Not yet. Boom, we're done. That's an instinct that you develop over time and it comes, it doesn't come with wanting to connect with people.
Nicole: Yeah. People are the worst. We are coming up on…
Michael: Suicide in Golden Gate Park [picture on screen].
Michael: Don't need to ask me about that one.
Nicole: I mean, but you do, you do get the full spectrum of San Francisco in your images? Like you don't just try to photograph something pretty. You don't just try to sub, you know, you really get out there and you show the many faces of San Francisco, which I think the city really needs still. I, I hope you're still out taking photographs because they're like, there's one narrative that you see online about San Francisco a lot. And she's got her problems. I'm not gonna say she doesn't, but she's, she's many splendored. And you [00:36:00] really see that come through in your photography.
Michael: Well, I, there was a point where, you know, John Szarkowski, the great curator for Museum of Modern Art in New York, once wrote in a book, almost 50 years ago, and at the time the statement was like, shocking. He said, there's now more photographs than bricks. That's absurd now, but back then you made you think, well, wow. So, and I have a new one, there's now more photographs than grains of rice. You think about it, right? It's in the trillions. So, in getting back to maybe what you’re asking, I don't feel the motivation or the urgency for me, MJ, to take a picture that could be any better or certainly not, you know, any different than [00:37:00] the many people out there shooting now. So, we will let that happen, but I will do my best to keep my, my archive alive and well.
Nicole: And you do, you're on Instagram all the time. You started following the OpenSFHistory Instagram, and I was like, we did it. Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh. We did it. And then you responded to my Instagram. This is, this came about because of Instagram. I DMed him on Instagram and he was like, please email me. Just please email me. And I did. And you came and it's amazing. And I think we need to start kind of wrapping up the podcast portion of our live podcast. But I do wanna ask you one more question that maybe you could leave us with a pearl of wisdom. If I wanted to be a photographer in San Francisco, what advice would you give me?
Michael: Okay, I'm gonna, I'm gonna be sneaky and dodge that one. Everything I [00:38:00] knew or know about photography was 50 years ago. It is 50 years later. It's a new climate. It went from silver gelatin prints to the age of Photoshop, social media, and now, I, is it IA?
Michael: I see. I'm not, that's huge, right? I see work now being referred to as before AI and after AI. It’s gonna happen fast. I think it's gonna happen fast because I saw an article or two where you just type in, write me a novel about this and have feeling and some tragedy and stuff. And within four seconds, they wrote a brand-new personal novel. Someone told me, “hey Michael, have you ever [00:39:00] used this for your own photography?” I said, “no.” He said, “I did.” And they used my, they typed in my name and they came up with like mixtures of all my pictures of, they were all mine, but they were kind of perfect collages. And I thought, “oh boy, what are we gonna do about this?” So, I guess I'm saying here and now, cause I think this is going to be good for the next 10 or 20 years, the work that I have done up to this point will be pure. It'll be analog. It'll be done by hand. Done by me on the street. But all bets are off for the future. We can't control it.
Nicole: I'm not even gonna try to follow that up with anything. Michael, thank you so much for being here tonight.
Michael: Thank you so much.
Nicole: And before we move on, I have to now say a word [00:40:00] from our sponsors. So, we couldn't have done this without so many of you, but our 24th birthday bash, live at the 4 Star Theater, was made possible by Jennifer Rosdail real estate team and David Friedlander. So, let's give a round of applause for our sponsors.
Nicole: And if you've been enjoying the beer tonight, that's because Fort Point Beer Company and us are buddies. And they gave us a bunch of free beer. So, thank you. Four Point Beer Company.
Nicole: We appreciate you very much. And now we are going to listener mail, which is why Arnold is standing next to me now. Okay, welcome back Arnold.
Arnold: Glad to be back.
Nicole: Arnold's back for Listener Mail. And we have Michael Jang back as well. Thank you for rejoining the podcast. Michael. Are you ready for some Inside the [00:41:00] Actor's Studio questions right now?
Nicole: I have note cards.
Michael: Go for it.
Nicole: Arnold, why don't you read the first one?
Arnold: What does a typical, quote, “creative day,” look like?
Michael: What does it look like? I wake up in the morning. Is this on?
Michael: I wake up in the morning and a thought pops into my head. It's a gift from the art gods and move on it. Like one day, post, you know, Jangs just popped into my head. And I started making them. I put one up and I see what the reaction is, you know. Cause on Instagram you get feedback. And if it gets a few likes, I go, so it got to be a pretty fun thing. Does that answer that question? Yeah.
Nicole: Yeah, I think you've nailed it. All right. Second question. May I take this, Arnold? Did you do your own developing? [00:42:00]
Michael: Oh, absolutely. I think, even now, a lot of photographers do like the dark room process. That was part of it. To get that Leica in your hands, to put the film in, to know that you have 36 shots only before you have to change the film. Now, if you're at an event and, like I said, you're following it, and there's an apex to a high point of an event, and let's suppose the best shot hasn't happened yet, but you're at number 33 and you got three shots left. Do you take that film out and start a new role, but maybe missed your picture? Or do you just go, okay, man, I've got two shots left. Now, I think you can get hundreds and hundreds, if not thousands of the shots right in a row without worrying about it. That doesn't make you a better photographer.
Nicole: I agree. Infinity doesn't breed [00:43:00] creation. Okay, Arnold, what's the next question?
Arnold: So, what sort of parallels or not can you draw between the street vibe or party feel of the streets of San Francisco in today's world versus the late ‘70s or early ‘80s?
Michael: I'm sorry I'm trying. I don't understand the question. I apologize.
Arnold: That's okay. They want to know are there any parallels or not between the street of, the streets of San Francisco, of the early days versus today.
Michael: See, to me that's a TV show, so you, that's when you lose me. I'm very literal. You lost me at that. That's, let's talk about Karl Malden. Next question.
Nicole: Let’s. Next question, okay. This one's from Dave Glass, who I hear you worked with in the past. Also an exceptional photographer. Mike, how many gallons of wheat paste have you [00:44:00] consumed so far?
Michael: What do you think, Brent? You wanna give it a shot? You can do the math. Do we do, if we go out once a week for three years, do the math, it’s like, what, hundreds of gallons. Luckily, it's cheap. Pretty cheap. So yeah.
Nicole: Dave, I hope this means you're gonna be wheat pasting your photos around the neighborhood soon. I would kill for that. Okay, next question, Arnold.
Arnold: Yeah, not sure how you're gonna feel about this one, but who is the most influential or difficult or famous person you have photographed?
Nicole: Can we get all three?
Michael: I can't really. I don't know if I can really say it.
Nicole: No one listens to this podcast, so you're good.
Crowd: Say it.
Michael: There was, well, luckily I can't remember his name, but he's a top two architect in the world. He's in L,A.
Nicole: Can I guess? [00:45:00]
Nicole: Frank Ghery?
Michael: So, they're making a film. I didn't say that. And they ask me to come on as a still photographer, cause this filmmaker knew he wanted me. So, I get there and they fly me down and they do the interview. And, I mean, this person was great, but as the filming was over, then it was my job to get a photograph of him. And, before that, I'm the kind of person, I take care of business. I'm looking all around and I saw this room in the back. I saw literally a four-foot piece of blank wall that I could get him. So, I said, “hi, I would like to get a picture of you.” And he kind of just blew me off. And when that happens, as a professional, you have to go into mode. And I saw him as somebody's grandpa. [00:46:00]
Michael: I said, “look, I, they flew me down here for this.” I'm, “I can do this in 30 seconds and take the best picture of anyone has ever taken of you. Anyone.” I said, it's in that room right now. Let's go. I, it was no lighting. I had a flashlight and a digital camera and I went like this. Two shots. It’s a fabulous picture.
Nicole: What a baller move.
Michael: Oh, you only said to put me off, Irving Penn just shot me. You know, I mean, took his picture. So, I just said, oh, put me in my place, why don't you?
Nicole: If it is Frank Ghery, I can 100% guarantee you he does not listen to this podcast. So, we're good here, Michael. All right. What are your inspirations for wheat paste collages?
Michael: There are none. I felt like it's kind [00:47:00] of, an art form that I've had to do on my own. Now, street art has like at least a 40-year history. If you, you can go on YouTube and, and see, you know, weeks and weeks of street art going back to a wonderful documentary in ‘82 called Style Wars. Right? So, yeah, in terms of, the question was sorry.
Nicole: What's your inspiration?
Michael: Inspirational. So honestly, my inspiration is, and this is a key question for anybody, you better be careful who you look at it, because it may actually seep into your subconscious and work. So, I picked just a few people to concentrate on. Basquiat, Herring, and Warhol. Talk on New Yorkers, right? They always got it. So, I, there was something about all three of them that I admired. Andy was not a street artist per se, but the other two [00:48:00] were. And I, you know, I wanted to just, I couldn't live in New York, but there's so much out there on them that I could really absorb and learn from the whole thing. So, I got a little something from all of them. With Basquiat, it was more of that, you know, I think Picasso said it took him four years to learn how to paint like Raphael and a lifetime to paint like a child. And then I thought, yeah, between Twombly, you know, and Basquiat, there's that something in their hand that I want. I don't want it, but it intrigues me as a photographer. We have nothing like that in our art form, which allows your brain to go into those magical, untapped spaces. So, it's more about that for me right now, I can take a picture, I've done it. I don't need to keep doing this. So, in my work now, I'm [00:49:00] looking to use the world as my studio. I don't need an art studio. My studio is out there. I was thinking the other day when I was doing this, it was crude. I knew it wasn't gonna last forever, and I thought, how different is this from a caveman doing drawings back then. Or, you know, the American Indians doing hieroglyphs or petroglyphs and carving, you know, animals and stuff on their walls. And the other parallel is, if you think about it, you think they had an art dealer. Why were they doing it? What was their motivation? My work is similar to that and that I'm just doing it.
Nicole: Art for art’s sake.
Nicole: All right. Arnold, do we have another question?
Arnold: We do have a last question for you, and before we get to that, I just wanna thank all the live podcast audience members who have submitted questions. We may not [00:50:00] have gotten to everybody's question, but these are some good questions. And this is a good follow up on that last one. From your influences to your favorites. Who are your favorite artists currently working today and they don't specify the type of art, so have at it.
Michael: A current working artist today that I admire?
Michael: I, I'm, this is not a dodge. It's not a dodge if I say I don't have one, I'm decided to be in my own bubble. To not be influenced by anything going on out there. This, I have a shot to do something totally wholly original on my own without being influenced by anyone or anything.
Nicole: Amen. Okay. I'm gonna sneak one last one in. I know it's been all my questions tonight, but I wanna know, why did you choose to live in the Richmond district?
Michael: Well, I think [00:51:00] back when I went to the San Francisco Art Institute, I rented a basement apartment for $160 to live in while I was a student. And so, you know, I just ended up out here and I remember all the punks thinking it was a, they wouldn’t wanna come and visit me out here. It was pretty uncool neighborhood. But you know how it is when you get to know a neighborhood, you feel kind of comfortable. So I, I was ready to just at some point, you know, get a house and all that stuff. I just moved a block away. I fell in love with this house that I now live in and I've been here ever since.
Nicole: Well, I can't argue with that.
Michael: It was a good move. It's a good neighborhood.
Nicole: Do you guys think the Richmond's pretty cool?
Nicole: Yeah. We do too. And you know what, Michael? I think you're pretty cool.
Michael: Oh, well thanks.
Nicole: Yeah. Thank you so much for being here. Let's get one more round of applause, Michael Jang.
Nicole: Thank you everyone. [00:52:00] And, with that everyone, thank you for helping us celebrate our 24th birthday party and ensuring we get to our 25th. Have a wonderful night!
Ian: Outside Lands San Francisco is recorded by Ian Hadley. Content creation and media production at ihadley.com.
Nicole: To learn more about the Western Neighborhoods Project and more on San Francisco history, go to Outsidelands.org. You can also find us on social media at Facebook, which is outsidelands with an S, at Twitter, which is outsidelandz with a Z, and on Instagram, which is outsidelandz, also with a Z. And check out our historic San Francisco images website at OpenSFHistory.org.