Shannon Kelly, from Two Friends


Vladimir on Market Street

Many of us who have spent time on Market Street in San Francisco making photographs have run into a man known by one name, Vladimir. Clad in denim, he’s a man holding a few secrets. One of the first times I met him I was carrying an Epson RD-1, close in appearance to a film camera. He noticed it because of the Leica lens, but once he determined I was a digital he told me I was wasting my time with bullshit pixels. Despite my faux pas, he offered up the most obvious of his secrets, a custom camera. 

On subsequent encounters I was using a Rolleiflex and he spoke with me a little longer. I’m sure everyone asked the same question I did: where can I look at your photographs online? He winced, obviously he’d heard this over and over, and had grown tired of everyone under 40 asking why his gelatin silver prints were not yet inside “the idiot box." 

Alex Ramos has answered our questions, by curating an introduction to Vladimir Panasenko’s work at the Leica Store and Gallery in San Francisco. 

The revelation of Vladimir’s decades long project is that he has produced a tightly structured survey of people on Market Street. One small selection of what Alex tells me is dozens of prints is called "birds” and it’s people running, captured at the moment they are in the air. A large wall at the gallery is women walking, all from the same perspective. 

Looking at Valdimir’s customized Leica M2s, which are on display at the show, it’s difficult to imagine them as tools for producing typologies. But the white marks on the lens indicate focus points that he forces himself to use, specific distances from the subjects to achieve consistent framings for each series. Of course this is also possible on an autofocus or digital cameras, but it’s remarkable how the camera itself becomes a document of his process. He carefully prints everything in 16×20 format and, again, the printing style has a consistency and logic that seem to have a relationship with the hand-carved camera grip made from driftwood. 

The exhibit is up for one more week, definitely go see it if you are in downtown San Francisco.