20 / 20 / 200 is a special anniversary portfolio produced by Micamera for its 20th anniversary Read here
MIMI PLUMB (Berkley, CA, 1953)
The Girl with the Polka Dot Dress, 1990
This image belongs to The Golden City series.
Mimi Plumb used to live on the edges of the city where the rents were cheap. Nearby, on the summit of the hill, were folded layers of radiolarian chert, the fossilized remains of microscopic creatures called radiolaria. A large crevice in the hillside was a reminder of the ever-present threat of an earthquake.
Warm Water Cove, along the bay, was a spectacle of tires and abandoned cars. One day Plumb photographed the chimney of the power station above the fiery destruction of the 25th Street Pier. She watched planes flying over the city dump of cardboard hillsides.
Downtown buildings on the far-off horizon reminded me of Oz. My cat, Pearl, kept watch on the rooftop of my flat. – Mimi Plumb
Plumb’s life was marked by nights out dancing at the Crystal Pistol in the Mission, or listening to a punk polka band at the Oasis. Neil, the clarinet player, wore faux leather naugahosen, with spikes protruding from his head. Sometimes they played pool at Palace Billiards. At the Exotic/Erotic Ball, a bird man and a nurse hid in the corners. A steely-eyed silver man in his tuxedo stared back at Plumb from behind his mask, the camera flash shining a light on him.
Plumb’s days were spent visiting abandoned schools and derelict gas stations, a billboard claiming ‘dangerously close to homemade.’
To Plumb the magical clanging of the San Francisco cable cars was a world away, and the idealism of the 1960s seemed long gone. The Golden City of San Francisco, fraying at its edges, showed the growing chasm between the rich and poor.
The pictures in The Golden City were made between 1984 and 2020.
Mimi Plumb is part of a long tradition of socially engaged photographers concerned with California and the West. In the 1970s, Plumb explored subjects ranging from her suburban roots to the United Farm Workers movement in the fields as they organized for union elections. Her first book, Landfall, published by TBW Books in 2018, is a collection of her images from the 1980s, a dreamlike vision of an American dystopia encapsulating the anxieties of a world spinning out of balance. Landfall was shortlisted for the Paris Photo/Aperture Foundation First Photobook Award 2019, and the Lucie Photo Book Prize 2019. Her second book, The White Sky, a memoir of her childhood growing up in suburbia, was published by Stanley/Barker in September 2020. The Golden City, her third book, published by Stanley/Barker in March 2022, focuses on her many years living in San Francisco. She recenty released her new beautiful monograph, Megalith Still
Born in Berkeley, and raised in the suburbs of San Francisco, Mimi Plumb has served on the faculties of the San Francisco Art Institute, San Jose State University, Stanford University, and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She currently lives in Berkeley, California.
The Golden City
Mimi Plumb explores the San Francisco suburbs where she lived for lack of money, in a neighborhood overlooked by a sedimentary hill dotted with tiny fossils, near Warm Water Cove, littered with tires and abandoned cars.
The author watched planes pass over the city dump and remembers that watching the outline of the city looming in the distance reminded her of the fantasy city of Oz.
Plumb spent her days photographing dilapidated buildings and abandoned gas pumps, and her evenings were spent dancing at the Crystal Pistol and playing pool at the Palace, surrounded by quirky characters, whom she photographed with flash.
The photographs, taken between 1984 and 2020 in the area where the city of San Francisco is crumbling and far from the magical aura that imbues the “Golden City,” become symbolic of the progressive disparity between rich and poor.