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Dennis is an acclaimed photographer whose work is represented in many museum collections. He was raised in New Hampshire and moved to San Francisco in 1965 to study painting at the Art Institute, but soon found himself drawn to photography. Dennis continues to spend much of his time in North Beach – usually with a camera at the ready – and often shoots at night around North Beach and Chinatown and at music venues. He is also well-known for campaign images he’s taken of Kamala Harris, Dianne Feinstein, Nancy Pelosi and other politicians. Dennis shares a studio at 480 Francisco Street with his wife, artist Magué Calanche.

Transcript: Dennis Hearne (1947- )


The following oral history transcript is the result of an interview with Dennis Hearne on June 2, 2022. The interview was recorded at his studio at 480 Francisco Street in San Francisco, California. The interview was conducted and transcribed by John Doxey, manager of the Telegraph Hill Dwellers Oral History Project.

Format: Interview recorded on a Canon XA11 camcorder. Duration is 54 minutes.

Attribution: This interview transcript is property of the Telegraph Hill Dwellers. Quotes, reproductions and excerpts must be cited as follows: Oral history interview with Dennis Hearne, June 2, 2022, Telegraph Hill Dwellers Oral History Project.

Summary: Dennis Hearne was born in Vermont in 1947 and raised among a large extended family in the town of North Walpole, New Hampshire. His father was in the U.S. Army, and when Dennis was in high school the family moved to Italy after his father was stationed at a base near Pisa. After returning to the United States, Dennis moved to Louisiana with his family and began applying to art schools, where he planned to focus on painting. He was accepted at the San Francisco Art Institute and moved to San Francisco in 1965 at age 18. Dennis soon found himself drawn to photography, and has honed his craft in San Francisco ever since, a city he appreciates for its Mediterranean light and cultural mix. He attended and worked at the Art Institute from 1965 through 1978, earning a B.F.A. and M.F.A., while developing close connections to the artistic scene in North Beach. Dennis has been awarded two grants by the National Endowment for the Arts, and his photographs are represented in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the British Arts Council and Harvard’s Fogg Art Museum, among others. His work includes campaign photographs for many Democratic candidates, and the Bright Moments series, which Dennis describes as “a celebration of nocturnal, Bohemian San Francisco.” Dennis lives in Cole Valley with his wife, Magué Calanche, but continues to spend much of his time in North Beach – often with a camera at the ready. He and Magué, also an artist, share a studio at 480 Francisco Street. Information about Dennis, including upcoming exhibitions, is available at

In this interview, Dennis speaks of growing up in North Walpole, New Hampshire, among a large extended family; his family’s move to Italy when his father was stationed at Camp Darby, a U.S. Army base near Pisa; attending high school in Italy; how he began developing an interest in photography after his father gave him a camera, and an early learning experience in Venice; the rock band his brother and sister formed in Italy; how he was influenced by European cinema in the 1960s and ‘70s; the choice between going to college or the Vietnam War after returning to the U.S.; how he was drawn to the San Francisco Art Institute because the campus buildings and surrounding neighborhood had an Italian feel; his arrival in San Francisco in 1965 and how he was struck by the brightness of the city’s buildings and light; why his focus switched from painting to photography at the SFAI; mentors he encountered at the SFAI, including Blair Stapp and Jerry Bruchard; working and teaching in the SFAI’s photography department into the late 1970s; leaving San Francisco briefly in 1967 to live in Italy; the enrollment jump at SFAI’s photography department after Antonioni’s film Blow-up was released; attending counterculture Midnight Movies events in North Beach in the late ‘60s; the low cost of living in North Beach during his students days; a photography project in Ireland that connected him to his Irish heritage; an NEA-funded photography project in Baja California for the California Historical Society in 1979-80; never seeking an agent or promoter to sell photographs; shooting campaign photos for Bob Matsui, Barbara Boxer, Gabby Giffords and many other Democratic candidates around the West; his Bright Moments photo series featuring musicians and San Francisco nightlife; architectural photography he’s done for Telegraph Hill Dwellers; a New York assignment in which he helped Annie Liebowitz, a fellow SFAI alum, print photo negatives; the difference between the light in New York and San Francisco; the “jewels” that continue drawing him to North Beach; how the MoMA in New York collected his photos; his travels to Oaxaca and other parts of Mexico with his wife Magué.

Dennis Hearne has had opportunities to review the transcript and have made corrections and emendations. The reader should keep in mind that he or she is reading a transcript of spoken, rather than written, prose.


JOHN: [00:00:20] OK. This is John Doxey with Dennis Hearne in his studio at 480 Francisco Street. And this is June 2nd, 2022. This is our first interview for the Telegraph Hill Dwellers Oral History Project.

DENNIS: First...?

JOHN: Our first.

DENNIS: Oh, our first...

JOHN: In case there's a second. [laughter] OK … Dennis, I'd like to just start off by asking you to tell me a little bit about your early life. Where you were born, what year … name of the town … maybe a little bit about your family. How many brothers and sisters you had, things like that.

DENNIS: [00:01:11] Yeah. Well, I was born in Vermont, directly across the river from a little town called North Walpole, where Ken Burns has his thing in Walpole, the next town down. Nowadays, the movie … NPR world. But I was born in the town called Bellows Falls because we didn't have a hospital on our side of the river. [chuckles] Yeah, and it was a small town … on the New Hampshire side. A working class town definitely. My grandmother was on that side. That's where I lived until I was seven or so. And she had about 13 kids. So that was in the late ‘40s. I was born in '47. The ending of a certain period of America's history. [chuckles] All these guys had been in World War Two. They were butchers, carpenters, nightwatchmen, whatever. Whatever got ‘em through financially. Except for my father, who left and joined the Army and stayed in the Army in World War Two. He was the only one that stayed out of town. [chuckles] I think he did it sort of to get his education, because he finished college by the time he was out of the Army, after 33 years. [chuckles] High school and college, actually, which is nice for him. But that town was the kind of town where no one locked the door. You could just drift into anyone's house. And … uncles. You could stay wherever you wanted to throughout the village. [Transcriber’s notes: North Walpole, NH is located just across the Connecticut River from Bellows Falls, VT.; Per Wikipedia, filmmaker Ken Burns, Elaine Mayes and Roger Sherman founded a production company called Florentine Films in Walpole, NH, in 1976. Each member works independently, but releases content under the shared name of Florentine Films. This appears to be what Dennis is referring to when he mentions an “NPR World” centered in Walpole.]

JOHN: A large family with 13...?

DENNIS: Thirteen uncles, or mostly uncles, yeah. You could just say, “I think I'll stay over at Johnny's house tonight, goodbye.” [chuckles] Yeah.

JOHN: And do you have a lot of cousins and...?

DENNIS: Oh, yeah, a few. Not as many cousins as we should've. [chuckles] But we had some cousins and my brothers and sister ... I have three. A twin sister and a brother and another sister who died. So I had four … there was four kids in the family. But we only traveled with my father when I was seven. That’s the first time we headed out, down to Fort Belvoir, which is near Washington, D.C., and did our first military base visit. And then … then every time he'd go out of the country, we'd go back to our town and … live at the old family homestead there for another two or three years until he'd get stationed somewhere in the States where we could go. [Transcriber’s note: per Wikipedia, Fort Belvoir is a U.S. Army installation in Fairfax County, Virginia.]

JOHN: Because at that time...?

DENNIS: couldn't go overseas, because of Eisenhower. Until Kennedy came in you couldn't bring a family with you because of the Cold War. When Kennedy came in, we could finally go. My father'd already been there for a year or two maybe. But I spent most of my high school in Italy, because he got stationed there, near Livorno, Pisa. [Transcriber’s note: Camp Darby is a U.S. Army installation located in Tuscany, between the cities of Livorno and Pisa. The complex is named in memory of Brigadier General William Darby, who was killed in action in 1945 near Trento, Italy.]

JOHN: So you were living back in New Hampshire? And you were how old when...?

DENNIS: Oh, I was a freshman when we went over there. I did my sophomore, junior, senior year over in Italy. I've dropped a lot of earlier stuff because we're almost ... after Italy I sort of came here...

JOHN: But you went to school … in New Hampshire primarily, unless you were moved to...?

DENNIS: Yeah. I'd say it's, yeah ... first few years, then a couple of years away, then back a few more years, then back away, then back. [chuckles] You know, that kind of a thing. Yeah. And I still know all those people. I mean, if they're still alive.

JOHN: Where are you in the birth order in your...?

DENNIS: I'm the last. I'm the...

JOHN: Youngest.

DENNIS: Well, I'm a twin so I was very polite. [chuckles] So I'm the youngest.

JOHN: So you have a twin?

DENNIS: Yeah. She lives in Texas. Yeah. [Transcriber’s note: Dennis has a twin sister, Patricia Harris, who lives in Texas. His older brother, David Hearne, also lives in Texas.]

JOHN: And you … when a lot of kids, when they are high school age and the family decides they're going to move to a foreign country, the kids are not too happy. How did you feel about this?

DENNIS: I can't remember 'cause I was in New Hampshire at the time and maybe I wanted to get out. Maybe I did. I can't remember because we'd moved so many different times. Not that many, but, you know, four times is enough that … I can't remember when I didn't want to move. I know at the beginning, the first time we moved, I didn't want to move. I can't remember the high school one. But when we got to Italy, it was, it was great.

JOHN: And where in Italy did you...?

DENNIS: Pisa Livorno, which is near Florence, about an hour from Florence.

JOHN: There was a U.S. Army base there?

DENNIS: Camp Darby. Yeah. Which is, I think he was a ranger who hit the beaches in World War Two, and then he got a base around that.

JOHN: And … what were some of your, if you can remember, interests that, you know, things that you were really spending your time doing when you were that age?

DENNIS: In high school? Oh, basketball and photography and painting. I wasn't painting except for in school. But photography with it, you know, just in general.

JOHN: How old were you, do you think, when you developed an interest in photography?

DENNIS: [00:06:21] Well, I think because my father traveled, he always had a camera. So I saw stuff. And then he kind of passed them on to us as time went on. I think he gave me a camera to go to Venice one time. And I went to Venice [chuckles] and I shot my roll of film, but I didn't advance it right. So I got two frames and then just nothing. I mean, you know [makes stacking sound] on top of each other. So I learned how to advance film after that. [chuckles]

JOHN: Did your brothers and sisters also have a similar interest, or was this something...?

DENNIS: My brother was a musician ... I was the recording engineer. [chuckles] My brother and sister had a little band in Italy with an Italian drummer. I forget the name of the band, but they went around and … put up posters and things in … towns and get Italian people to come. It was fun. Rock and roll.

JOHN: An artistic family.

DENNIS: Yeah, I guess so [chuckles] ... for Army kids maybe, yeah, possibly.

JOHN: What was it like when you moved to Italy? You'd never been out of … lived anywhere out of the U.S.

DENNIS: No, it was great 'cause … I think the first night or something we sat down or something we sat down and had a dinner with my father's … like his aide or something. He worked in a motor pool at the base, you know, like on trucks and stuff, I guess. I'm not sure exactly what he did. But he was out there, and … he had lots of Italian helpers. And so we went to … met his family and started learning the name of a fork and a spoon and this and that, you know. They were pretty well-dressed.

JOHN: Did you … did you begin to learn Italian?

DENNIS: Yeah, well, because the problem was … I did. But I should have learned it a lot better because … in high school you kind of tend to be with your peers. And most of those were Americans. And so we didn't … we didn't speak Italian amongst ourselves.

JOHN: You went to an American school...?

DENNIS: On the base, yeah. You didn't have, I guess you didn't have to, but we did, yeah. We had a few Italians on the base, too.

JOHN: What was it like in terms of … you know, maybe bringing new perspectives to you?

DENNIS: Oh, well. You know, I mean, of course Italy is known for the Renaissance and all that kind of stuff. So it's probably a big influence. I think when I went to the Art Institute, I think we had ... or maybe when we were thinking about going somewhere we had to say, “what do we want to do?” And I think, you know, I used some Michelangelo quotes and all that kind of stuff [chuckles] that I had at the time to write my paper for high school … It disappeared long ago. [chuckles] It wasn't cut in stone.

JOHN: Did the, uh … living in Italy and the exposure to the art there and the architecture, did that further your interest in painting and photography?

DENNIS: [00:09:09] No … I was painting in Italy, but photography when I got back here, because of the civil rights movement and stuff like that. I mean, I never painted anything down in Louisiana, that's for sure … We moved to Louisiana, and then I came out here ... yeah, I think that the ... I think the Italian culture in general, because that was Italian at the time of Fellini and Antonioni and all the Italian actresses and actors of that period. I mean, now I couldn't name a new Italian actor. I don't keep up with it, I don't know if the young people do. I don't know if it's a generational thing or at that time we were more into the international, you know, the movies and things of Europe in the '60s and '70s. I'm not sure how it's changed, but I think it has. [Transcriber’s note: after leaving Italy, Dennis moved with his family to a U.S. Army base in Louisiana.]

JOHN: So after spending how long, two or three years in Italy...

DENNIS: Yeah, about three years.

JOHN: ...your family moved back to the States. To Louisiana, did you say?

DENNIS: Yeah. My father was headed for Vietnam, so, yeah, so it ... he didn't have to go to basic training, but he was stationed there for a little while. [chuckles] And then probably hanging out in the swamps for a while or something like that.

JOHN: Did you complete high school while you were still in Italy?

DENNIS: No, I didn't. I finished...

JOHN: When you came back?

DENNIS: Yeah, I didn't know anybody. A couple of guys basically when I got here.

JOHN: And so what happened after you finished high school?

DENNIS: Well, I had to either go to Vietnam like everybody or decided to go to college. And I said, “Well, where could I go?” And I probably applied for catalogs in those days. Twenty art schools from, I think, Mellon or something. Carnegie, you know. Something in New York, something [chuckles] in Boston probably. And then the Art Institute. L.A. something, you know, down there. Art Center, I guess. But the Art Institute catalog, I think, sold me [chuckles] ‘cause it looked like Italy. That was the front door. And then it showed this building, which is Spanish colonial, I guess, or something like that. [chuckles] And so... [Transcriber’s note: Dennis appears to be referencing the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena here, among the other art schools he considered attending.]

JOHN: So the Italian nature of the...

DENNIS: ...oh, the neighborhood?

JOHN: ...North Beach, the neighborhood?

DENNIS: Well, after research I said, “Well, yeah. And also it's a visually interesting city.” Versus, you know, most other cities you just see the buildings but not the sky or the water or the land around. This is probably one of the few cities that's got enough hills to see beyond itself. Whereas like in New York you just see the buildings or maybe the sky, if you're lucky. [chuckles] So then, yeah, it had an Italian community, which I thought would be interesting.

JOHN: You were accepted to the Art Institute?

DENNIS: Oh, I think anybody would be accepted if they paid 350 … 350 bucks. [chuckles]

JOHN: And what was the year that you came then?

DENNIS: Sixty-five.

JOHN: OK. And how old were you at that time?

DENNIS: I guess I was 18. I'd have to figure that one out. Yeah, because I was born in '47. I'd be 18.

JOHN: So was it … did you find what you'd hoped to find when you came here?

DENNIS: Sixty-five. That doesn't make sense. Or does it? [chuckles]

JOHN: No, that makes sense. Yeah, if you were born in '47 and you came in...

DENNIS: Yeah. That's why I didn't go into math. [laughter] Anyway, what'd you say now?

JOHN: I said did you … was it … when you came here was it all you had hoped, or did you find what you'd hoped for?

DENNIS: Yeah, it was it was great. I mean I didn't hang around with the Italians like in my head I thought I would. But … because the school kind of took over. But the city was really ... I don't mean white people. I mean a white city like southern European, like Spain, I guess. The white city, white towns they have. At the time. Now it's a lot more color on the buildings, or maybe it was then. But to me it seemed like a real white city. Like the Mediterranean.

JOHN: The light?

DENNIS: [00:12:55] Yeah, the light. The hard light, contrasts, you know, that kind of stuff. But the whiteness of the buildings, too, at the time. And nowadays people paint ‘em in purple and black and stuff like that. It's different.

JOHN: And when you entered the Art Institute, your focus was on painting initially, right?

DENNIS: Yeah, but I never took a painting class. [chuckles] I think immediately I got into photography. I don't know why, but yeah.

JOHN: Was that because of, like you said, the events of the time?

DENNIS: Well, they weren't happening too much then. I think I just somehow, I can't remember how I would have decided to not take painting and do that. I think I was afraid of the painting basically. It was so abstract maybe. I didn't understand it. And I said, “Well, at least I understand photography. I think I'll do that.” Yeah.

JOHN: Were there some professors or fellow students that you were particularly drawn to at the Art Institute?

DENNIS: No, not really at the time. Oh, later on, yeah, but not when I went there. I didn't know anyone.

JOHN: Who was the director of the department?

DENNIS: [00:13:50] When I went it was a guy named Blair Stapp, S-T-A-P-P, who did documentaries I found out later. Like of the Tenderloin at the time, same as now. [chuckles] And worked for KQED. And he was about, his films were about, which I'd like to see again, kind of street people. And ... but he died young. I forget why. But I mean, he was probably 40 or maybe 50, but young. And then a guy named Jerry Burchard took over after him. And Jerry had been a student at the Art Institute in the '50s, late '50s, and did some great photographs of the Beat … not the Beat, but the … painters from around that period. And … mostly painters I guess. And … he went to the school as well. But he was brought back in. He went to New York for awhile, and may have worked on something like what you’re doing. I don't know exactly, but something. He had a job there. And he said he used to have a darkroom in his apartment, but he'd wash his prints in the shower [laughter] because he didn't have a sink to wash ‘em in. So it's kind of interesting. [chuckles] [Transcriber’s notes: Internet research by transcriber found little information about photographer Blair Stapp, except that a famous photo of Huey Newton of the Black Panther Party sitting in a wicker chair holding a spear in his left hand and a shotgun in his right hand was apparently taken by Stapp in 1966 or ’67.; Jerry Burchard chaired the photography department at the SFAI from 1968-71 and 1978-79. He is perhaps most famous for his night photographs. Burchard died in 2011.]

JOHN: And … did you get a B.A. and an M.F.A. ...?

DENNIS: I got a B.A. back about '69 or '70 maybe, I don't know. ‘Cause I went away for a half a year in the middle of it, about '70 probably. And then I left, but not too far. I think I lived on the corner. [chuckles] And a friend of mine, Bill Arnold, who was running the photo department's … not the teaching part, but the rest of it, the structure, the equipment and all that kind of stuff, headed back East. So he turned the job over to me. And so I came back to the school. And … if you work there, you could go to graduate school on the house basically, part of your deal. And then I think I taught a little bit after that up to about '78. And then I kind of left.

JOHN: And did you, was part of what you were focusing on … darkroom … printing and...?

DENNIS: You mean when? No, I was focusing on taking photographs. I mean the darkroom is...

JOHN: That too. I just thought you had developed a certain expertise in that.

DENNIS: Yeah, I was pretty well, you know, I was a good printer in the darkroom. Black and white, not color. I didn't get into color until the late '70s. But black and white, yeah.

JOHN: And tell me a little bit about the community of people that you hung out with at that time who were affiliated with the Art Institute.

DENNIS: [00:16:30] Well, the Art Institute … like you've heard before, well, it was kind of a North Beach thing. And … so you knew the neighborhood and it was sort of part of the school at the same time. If you worked at the Spaghetti Factory, theoretically at least, you could get an Art Institute scholarship through Jerry Burchard and come to his classes and study photography. But not have to go to the school. But technically you could just kind of visit. And so when he became chairman it was around when Blow-up the movie came out. [chuckles] And everybody got into photography, or a lot of people did at that period because of the strangeness of it all. [Transcriber’s notes: The Old Spaghetti Factory, located at 478 Green Street, was a cafe, cabaret and restaurant run by Frederick (Freddy) Kuh from 1955 until 1984. In the heyday of the beatnik period, the place was renowned not only for serving bargain-priced pastas but was an incubator and magnet for local talent. Many students from the Art Institute worked at the Old Spaghetti Factory, per the San Francisco Planning Commission.; Blow-up is a 1966 film directed by Michelangelo Antonioni. The story is set in 1960s Swinging London and follows a fashion photographer who believes he has unwittingly captured a murder on film.]

JOHN: The Antonioni film?

DENNIS: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And actually it was [unintelligible word here] photographers. Later we can talk about that another time, involved in that, that renaissance of photography, so to speak, of fashion photography at least in Britain at the time. And … anyway, when he, when that movie came out and he came in we went from about I’d say 70 photo students to about 300 in about a year or two. And about that time Steven Arnold and Michael Wiese, who were filmmaking students … I was a still photographer kind of guy and … for them. They were supposed to show their film at the school, but they said, “Well, we want to show it in a theater.” So they rented this theater down here, which is the Palace now. Yeah, the Palace on the corner. Now it's a condo building... [Transcriber’s notes: According to an article by the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, Steven Arnold (1943–1994) directed only one feature film, a dreamy journey toward enlightenment cryptically called Luminous Procuress (1971). In early 1969, Arnold completed the 28-minute film, Messages, Messages, that was his graduate project for the San Francisco Art Institute. Not wanting to merely screen the film at an SFAI auditorium, he and co-creator Michael Wiese looked for a more interesting venue, which they found in the Palace Theater, a failing Chinese movie house in North Beach. On February 27, 1969, Messages, Messages was presented alongside "3 full hours of fantastique film," drawing hundreds of adventurous cinemagoers to the scene. Seeing the potential renewal of the Palace, the theater’s manager asked Arnold to do midnight programs. As a result, Arnold launched what he called the Nocturnal Dream Shows, programs mixing classic cinema and shorts from the avant-garde.]

JOHN: Oh, the Pagoda?

DENNIS: Pagoda, I'm sorry. I think it was called the Palace at the time. Then it changed to the Pagoda. Anyways, they rented that. And then after they showed their movie the guy says, “Well, you can have it if you want it.” And so they started the Midnight Movies, which sort of joined North Beach, the Art Institute, to the neighborhood. And a friend of ours would [chuckles] get in her Moroccan clothes and walk through North Beach advertising it at, you know, like 11 o'clock or 10:30, wandering through the streets. And people would come to the theater. And that's where the Cockettes had their first performances. Which I can't even remember because the thing started at midnight, probably ended at four. You could nod out at about two and wake up and something had happened. [chuckles] And you’d go home. [Transcriber’s note: per Wikipedia, the Cockettes were an avant garde psychedelic theater group founded in the fall of 1969. At the Pagoda Palace Theatre in North Beach, the Cockettes performed as part of the Nocturnal Dream Show, combining LSD-influenced dancing, set design and costumes. Word of these shows quickly got out and the Cockettes gained a reputation as pioneers of San Francisco's counterculture.]

JOHN: So those were good times.

DENNIS: [00:18:51] Yeah, it was very easy living in North Beach. Financially was probably a lot of … a big part of it. Because you could get a meal for basically ... at Minimum Daily Requirement, which was right where this building is [points to photo on wall], right south of the Trieste, yeah, a little bit, was a place where you could get pea soup and bread for like a buck or 50 cents or something like that. So you could live on nickels and dimes, basically, and still eat, you know, pretty well. And so rent was cheap and food was cheap. [Transcriber’s note: Minimum Daily Requirement, also known as MDR, was a low-cost eatery in North Beach in the 1960s and ‘70s.]

JOHN: Where did you live when you were, uh, going to the Art Institute?

DENNIS: Where did I … well, I came to a residence club first ‘cause that was the cheapest … thing to do for me. And I wasn't, what do you call, progressive enough to just kind of do it on my own. [chuckles] To get an apartment and stuff. And it was … I was out of high school. It was you pay a certain amount a month, you get breakfast and supper. And you get to meet the cook you get more than you wanted to eat basically. [chuckles] And take a portrait or two.

JOHN: Do you remember the name of the residence hotel?

DENNIS: Yeah, it was called the ... hang on a second ... it's on Sacramento at Franklin. I'll think of it in about a half an hour.

JOHN: Monroe?

DENNIS: That's it. Monroe Residence Club, that it, yeah. Yeah. I don't think there's many of those left, actually. Uh, Monroe Residence. [Transcriber’s note: the Monroe Residence Club is still in business at 1870 Sacramento Street.]

JOHN: Those were very popular for young people in the city at that time.

DENNIS: I think at the time that it probably wasn't for my age. But for people that had just got divorced or something. Because my roommate in the bedroom … we had a bed, there were two single beds, and the guy was like, you know, probably 30. Maybe it was 20-something, but to me it was like, you know, 40. [chuckles] So he'd come in every night with ... and mostly everybody was single, but they weren't my age really. Maybe they were just professional people, and I didn't know what even that was at that time.

JOHN: And … did you end up moving to North Beach at some point?

DENNIS: I wandered around and no, I didn't until ... what happened was I went from one residence club to another. And then some people from there went out to the Fillmore when they were starting to tear it down. And even the National Guard came in there one time. I forget when that was. It was probably '66 'cause I left the city in the Summer of Love [chuckles] or just before. And I noticed yesterday someone published that Sgt. Pepper's came out yesterday, June the first, in '67. And … that was a crazy album obviously. But I'd sort of had enough of craziness. [Transcriber’s notes: Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is a groundbreaking album released by the Beatles in 1967.; the Fillmore District was known for having the largest jazz scene on the West Coast up until its decline in the 1970s. The ethnically diverse neighborhood had a large African American population and underwent a large-scale, controversial redevelopment during the late 1960s and 1970s.]

JOHN: You'd had enough love in San Francisco?

DENNIS: Yeah, I'd had a big … extra-large portion of the cup. [chuckles] I said, “Well, I'll go back to Italy for awhile.” And so I did, for about six months. But Italy had cheap imitations of the Summer of Love and it couldn't ... and the other rest of the stuff I already knew, so to speak, ‘cause it was all historical things. And so I said, “I might as well go back to San Francisco. Or Vietnam.” [chuckles] So I went back.

JOHN: Easy choice.


JOHN: Was the reason you went to Italy to … was it related to … photography?

DENNIS: Well, because I had felt comfortable in Italy and I wouldn't know … I could have gone to Germany or something, but I had no interest in that at the time. Or even France. Because I spoke a little Italian, at least I could get around. That was '67, yeah. So I went back kind of 'cause of that. And they had a language school. Of course, I didn't hang around with Italians again. I hung around with a South African and a guy from Israel, so I never did learn Italian again. [chuckles] So one more time.

JOHN: And then you ended up coming back to San Francisco and…?

DENNIS: Yeah, I came back and continued the Art Institute … That's why I was away for half a year.

JOHN: And what did you do when you … you came to San Francisco as a young guy, 18 years old, and … for just to earn enough money to...?

DENNIS: Well, I worked at the lab at school. I mixed chemicals, and I ran the lab, but I didn't run it because they didn't have that position at the time.

JOHN: And you got paid to do that?

DENNIS: Yeah, you made a little money. Enough to pay your rent. And I washed dishes and things like that, you know. I don't think I waited tables at that point. But, you know, all the things you do.

JOHN: Is another reason you came to San Francisco, perhaps … you mentioned that you have never had a driver's license?

DENNIS: Oh, right. Yeah, yeah. I came because … I guess we could have got it. I just asked a friend the other day about that who lived in Italy. He said, “Yeah, I got my license or I could have I guess,” he said. But we didn't.

JOHN: And you don't really need to drive so much here.

DENNIS: I figured I could save money by not having a car. And so I lived within a mile of the Art Institute, basically. I had it down to a mile. I said I can't go beyond that mile ‘cause I can walk to school every day.

JOHN: And how was … I mean during this time you were … a student and also doing some teaching and working at … the Art Institute. How was your own work evolving?

DENNIS: Oh, well … see I was a student, I guess I we did projects. There was a guy named John Collier Jr. who was a social anthropologist. I think maybe there's a different word, but an anthropologist, a visual … one of those words. [chuckles] He was a photographer who had done a lot in the Southwest, and he was a good teacher about working on a project or sequences and things like that … And Jerry was good at that, too. So I always was working on little projects like that. But about '70 … I think in the graduate when I was running the lab there in the early '70s I got into my heritage like some people do, of course, sometime in your life. I got into Ireland and went to Ireland twice. Each summer after I'd teach a class, I'd use the money and head over there for a month. So just enough from a class to buy a ticket, hang out for a month, hitchhike around. And it felt like another century in Ireland at the time. Nowadays it wouldn't feel that way. But back then you still felt like 19... [Transcriber’s note: Per Wikipedia, John Collier Jr. was an American anthropologist and an early leader in the fields of and applied anthropology. His emphasis on analysis and use of still photographs in ethnography led him to significant contributions in other subfields of anthropology, especially the applied anthropology of education. His book Visual Anthropology: Photography as a Research Method (1967) is one of the earliest textbooks in the field and is still in use today.]

JOHN: You were giving yourself a kind of documentary assignment when you went there?

DENNIS: Well, I went to see relatives that I'd never met, obviously. But, you know, that were the brother of my grandfather, who I did know. But his brother, people like that. Who still had the accent from way back, and still did everything that … farmed and everything, you know. They didn't even have running water. They had to go to the neighbors to get water every day with a horse and buggy and a five-gallon milk can.

JOHN: What part of Ireland was this?

DENNIS: Near Waterford. A town called Mooncoin. Which doesn't mean that... [Transcriber’s note: Mooncoin is a town located in County Kilkenny, Ireland.]

JOHN: That's where your ancestors come from?

DENNIS: [00:25:47] Yeah, as far as I know. On the Irish side. I don't know about the other side, but ... yeah, anyway, yeah, I did it. I have a good set of photographs from there from that period. Then I went back in the '90s, but it felt like a different country by then … Because all the tech people were starting to come in. Although it wasn't developed yet, but you could feel that in, you know, you could feel it starting to happen. Yeah. That was the main … and then as school got out, we applied for NEAs and we did this thing … about Baja, Highway One. Five photographers, which is a couple of photographs on the wall here from there, where we had to shoot from the tip of Baja to Tijuana. And … it was about Highway One. It had just opened, or maybe it had been opened and washed out and reopened or something. Anyway.

JOHN: And that was funded by the National Endowment for the Arts?

DENNIS: NEA through the … California Historical Society. So they funded us to shoot it, but they forgot or actually I think they lost their building about that time over here up on Pacific Heights. Something went wrong with their whole economic situation and the director and all that kind of stuff. And [laughter] so they never had a show. But they still have 50 photographs from each one of us at the Historical Society in the library somewhere. Eight-by-tens we had to turn in at the end, in a diary kind of thing. It was fun.

JOHN: Were you beginning to sell some of your photographs?

DENNIS: Yeah. I sold a few here and there. But I've never been a … I never have approached a gallery all my life, so it never happened that way. So I'm still more of a neighborhood photographer in that sense, yeah.

JOHN: And I think one thing that you have done, I don't know when it began, but is … more on a commercial thing is the political photographs...

DENNIS: Oh, that was a chance job that sort of continued to, you know, go, so to speak.

JOHN: So did it start with one, and then one thing led to another?

DENNIS: Yeah, it's kind of like that. I mean, I didn't look for it.

JOHN: What was the first one?

DENNIS: It was an easy photograph of someone at a microphone, at a downtown hotel somewhere that we just walked into and used as though ... it's a lie [chuckles] about speaking to crowds. The woman could speak to crowds. So it's sort of an advertising shot.

JOHN: And who was that?

DENNIS: I can't remember the name. It was a woman. She was totally … for the city and all that kind of stuff. But I don't remember the name. I've probably done a thousand of these things over the years.

JOHN: Didn't you begin doing some things with Clint Reilly? [Transcriber’s note: Clint Reilly, a campaign consultant-turned-businessman, owns a diversified family of commercial real estate, hospitality and media businesses in San Francisco. Reilly’s media holdings include the San Francisco Examiner, Nob Hill Gazette and SF Weekly. He ran for mayor of San Francisco in 1999.]

DENNIS: Yeah, well, it was for him, actually. Yeah.

JOHN: Oh, he had hired you for that?

DENNIS: Yeah, probably hired me, so to speak. Yeah, I guess so. Who knows? Then I think we did a real campaign, which was Citizen Matsui. Bob Matsui up in Sacramento, who was a congressman. And his wife is still the congresswoman from Sacramento. So that's been since '78 or something. One family has been Sacramento's Congress family. [chuckles] [Transcriber’s note: Per Wikipedia. Robert Takeo Matsui, a Democrat, represented California’s 5th congressional district in the northern San Joaquin Valley and central Sierra Nevada from 1979 until his death in 2005. This seat has been held since 2005 by Bob Matsui’s widow, Doris Okada Matsui.]

JOHN: Did you begin then to develop a reputation among some of the campaign people?

DENNIS: [00:29:15] Well, I worked for him for quite a while, probably for 10 years. Not every year even, you know, just every ... when he does something that he wanted me to shoot, he'd drag me into it. It wasn't like a full-time job or even a part-time job. It was, you know, “Hey, we got a campaign over here. Can you come and shoot it?”

JOHN: But would your work … pick up when there was an upcoming election?

DENNIS: Yeah, it's a cyclic thing. It's like picking, you know, picking crops or something like that. [chuckles]

JOHN: And do you want to tell me some of the … politicians whose names we would recognize, who you've shot for?

DENNIS: Well, I think the first one that would be recognizable would be Barbara Boxer. Because she was a congresswoman from, I mean, she was a ... was she a senator? Yeah. She became a senator.

JOHN: She ended up as a senator.

DENNIS: [00:30:05] Yeah, first she ran for Congress, then became a senator … Yeah. And she's very small, petite. First shot we had this is a big storm that had happened in Marin. So it happened to be the day that we were supposed to shoot her. It's all black and white. Just me, no film guys. And most of these cases are like that. I go in, sort of like soften them up [laughter] sort of get a signature for them, like they did this and that. But it's a story, so to speak. And then the film guys come in later, and then I drift to the background and become unimportant, of course. Because they're there, and they have scripts and the whole thing. So it's interesting watching the cycle of that kind of world. [chuckles] But … yeah, the first shot we did was a butcher who was probably 200, maybe 300 pounds, a big guy, and Barbara. And how do you make her look, you know, like she's captivating the moment.

JOHN: So what did you do?

DENNIS: Yeah, I can't remember anymore. But, you know, you have to get down or something, whatever.

JOHN: Or put her on a milk carton or...

DENNIS: Later she got her own thing going there, a little box. But that's happened more than once where there's a … suddenly there's a guy, a roly-poly guy who’s all about numbers and he's talking to the truck driver [chuckles] that's like six feet and seven or something. It's interesting to see the things you have to work with, because you wouldn't do these naturally. But on a job ... and it's not a job where it's a fashion job, where everything's, you know, you have a make-up person. No makeup in general. We just shot natural light. So it's kind of documentary in a way, except for you study how people, how the light works on people, so you get ‘em in better light.

JOHN: And I imagine they want it to be a kind of a flattering shot if it's a campaign?

DENNIS: Well, flattering is to me synthetic. So, you know, it's just as relatively honest as you can be in that situation. [chuckles] Flattering means to me all shined up and stuff, and I'm never gonna to do that. Nowadays you can kind of do it in Photoshop. But I don't do it with most people. Just fix a few hairs or stray and things like that. Yeah.

JOHN: Any other politicians?

DENNIS: Well, we had Feinstein. And Pelosi's first campaign, which was … a congressional campaign, obviously. And she's still there. [chuckles] Feinstein's first campaign... [Transcriber’s note: Dennis is referring here to Diane Feinstein and Nancy Pelosi.]

JOHN: For the mayor … mayoral?

DENNIS: Yeah, I've done a ... well, Feinstein was a mayor, but I'm trying to think of the other ones over the years. I've worked on different campaigns, but they're not like in that sense. They're not ... oh, Kamala Harris, we did her first campaign. That was a scruffy one down on 6th Street. We just wandered along the “wine country” at the time it was called [chuckles] and just ad-libbed as we went along the street, basically. Yeah. Mostly a lot of women. Obviously, there's a lot of women...

JOHN: Gabby Giffords. Was she one that you did?

DENNIS: Oh, Gabby. Yeah, yeah. We did Gabby. We'd fly away and do things. That was for Mary Hughes, who does mostly women's campaigns or promoting women candidates. [Transcriber’s note: Mary V. Hughes founded Close the Gap California in 2013. She is a co-founder of Hughes & Company, previously Staton Hughes, a strategic communications and political consulting firm in Palo Alto, California. Mary founded and served as director of The 2012 Project, a national, non-partisan campaign of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University to increase the number of women in Congress and state legislatures.]

JOHN: So like I said I think it sounds like your name kind of got out among some of the...

DENNIS: Yeah. Well, it's a very small circle in San Francisco, and so...

JOHN: Then wasn't there one in Montana that you did?

DENNIS: Oh, well, that's Tester, yeah. But that was that was pretty recently. Yeah, actually I did, I have a book here that they published and used one of the campaign photographs, which is kind of nice because they paid you for it. I don't make that much on a campaign actually, ‘cause it's somehow they make more on the TV and all that kind of stuff. So, whatever. As long as I have the work I'm happy. Some kind of work once in a while, pay the rents … Yeah, we did him and Heidi Heitkamp. They both lost. We've done the governor of Washington State. Governor of Arizona. I mean, not Arizona … Las Vegas, Nevada. Yeah. And a congresswoman over there, two Congress ladies actually. They're all women nowadays. [chuckles] And … senators from Colorado. You know, I've probably hit every state except for maybe three. These are usually Senate or congressional races. And I don't get the job. Someone else gets the job because they're known around D.C. as campaign people. It's not my world. [Transcriber’s note: Dennis refers here to Jon Tester, a U.S. senator from Montana, and Mary Kathryn "Heidi" Heitkamp, a former U.S. senator from North Dakota.]

JOHN: And did you say that a lot of the folks you knew in that world are beginning to retire now and…?

DENNIS: Well, yeah, definitely, yeah. So, I don't know what I’ll be doing. But I'm getting older, too. But I can't retire. [chuckles] So we'll keep on shooting, I guess.

JOHN: So … what are some of the other, I guess, genres or projects that you're working on?

DENNIS: Well, I've been working on the architecture of the neighborhood here, which is something that I sort of was doing with Nancy Shanahan for the Telegraph Hill people. Although that ... the paper, the survey was written up, but we didn't use … I mean, photography-wise it was … I mean, I have 'em, but we didn't need 'em for whatever she was doing there to make it a ... I can't think of the word right now, but the neighborhood... [Transcriber’s note: Dennis is referring here to Nancy Shanahan, a longtime member of Telegraph Hill Dwellers (THD) and the group’s current vice president.]

JOHN: The Semaphore?

DENNIS: No, not The Semaphore. Whatever the neighborhood would be called up here … It's sort of a protected neighborhood as far as architecture and things like that. Recognized at least by the state and by the city. But it was supposed to be every building in the neighborhood. I mean some were behind, so you can't get to those anyways. [Transcriber’s note: The Semaphore is a quarterly publication of Telegraph Hill Dwellers.]

JOHN: Oh, so your assignment was to...?

DENNIS: Well, it was not a paid assignment. I was doing this anyway.

JOHN: Your project was to photograph every building in North Beach?

DENNIS: Yeah, but I didn't do it. I said I'll do blocks and stuff. I mean, just the way I shoot I'm not going to ... 'cause that’d be kind of a paid job if there ever was a budget for that kind of thing. There's like a thousand-something buildings in North Beach. Plus the ones behind the old cottages and stuff. That's another story. But you’d have to knock on a door.

JOHN: It seems that you really do like to do a lot of your shooting at night.

DENNIS: [00:36:28] Oh, yeah. Well, the architecture would be a daytime thing. And the … nighttime world, I think, well, I've always shot in nighttime. But I think sometime ... one time I was going to a show at the Live Worms up there on Grant Avenue, and I wandered down the street, and they were playing some music in the Trieste. And [chuckles] what happened was the music was really interesting and the crowd was interesting 'cause it was like three or four guys playing at the back … the back wall. And then some people like learning English as a second language in a corner. And somebody reading a book over here, someone working on a computer over here. So it was a mixture of different... [Transcriber’s note: Live Worms Gallery is located at 1345 Grant Avenue. Caffe Trieste is located on the corner of Vallejo Street and Grant Avenue.]

[Second recording segment of June 2, 2022 interview with Dennis Hearne begins here]

DENNIS: [00:00:00] …things happening within one space while music was going on. And then other musicians were showing up, so by the time you ended the night it was like 10 musicians. A Japanese guy playing Elvis Presley stuff while standing on a table. He didn't hardly know how to play the guitar at that point, but he was, they let him have his song, "Don't Be Cruel" or something like that. [chuckles] You know, so they let everybody that weren't great musicians have their little piece of an action. And so I kept going back to that, and that got me involved with musicians more than I had been. I mean, I've shot lots of musicians, but not as a web that kept developing. A web of intrigue in music throughout the city. So now there's probably 100, at least 100 musicians that I kind of follow.

JOHN: Not just in North Beach, but around the city?

DENNIS: Oh, they're in the Haight or Fillmore or whatever, you know. But then the night stuff because it's ...  in the daytime, you're stuck with the sunlight, which is beautiful. But at night you have a lot of other funny things happening. A car light goes by or whatever happens. So light is always changing, and you have no control over [chuckles] no control over the ... like the colors in the windows of somebody's house or something. So I got into that part. Which is color, not black and white.

JOHN: And … what kind of a camera do you use when you're...?

DENNIS: Well, now I'm using a Sony. I've used Nikons and Canons. All of 'em have been fine.

JOHN: But for night shooting?

DENNIS: It wouldn't matter really, because most cameras are made, you know, with high ISO capabilities. But I'm not the kid I used to be, so I like to go light and inconspicuous and something relatively small on my body. So I wouldn't carry the Nikon out at night. I got rid of it anyway. But same thing with the Canon. And just need a fast lens, basically. A couple of lenses. That’s all usually people would use if they have their 50s or 35s, or maybe a wider lens that they use to shoot. And keep a few in your pocket, you don't need a bag.

JOHN: Did you say that you like to do kind of midnight rambles?

DENNIS: Well, yeah. You know, maybe after the bar. [chuckles]

JOHN: I mean is that a nice time for you to catch certain kinds of things?

DENNIS: Well, because you're by yourself there's not many people wandering the streets. Which is fine when the crowds are out, too. But … but you're more reflective about the light ‘cause it's quieter. So you see it a different way than you would at eight o'clock at night when everyone's bustling about. So, like, I like to wander through Chinatown about that time.

JOHN: You do a lot of what appears to be chronicling the neighborhood in a way, and not just North Beach, but into Chinatown and...


JOHN: …it's very interesting and...

DENNIS: Well, yeah.

JOHN: Do you do that, I mean, in your mind are you thinking of this in a connected way? Like this is part of a project?

DENNIS: [00:03:04] Yeah, it is part of a project. Well, I did one book, which is pretty well done called Bright Moments which … is called Bright Moments because [unintelligible word here] photography that's positive, not negative generally. [chuckles] And … and there was an album recorded called Bright Moments at Keystone Gallery, up by the police station. My studio was kitty corner to that, to that club. And so one day it just came to me: “Well, the Bright Moments was recorded across the street. I was there when they recorded it. Why don't I use that as a title for this book which is about positive things?” Although the book does end with a lot of closings of places and last walks or last calls of places that have gone now, like Capp’s Corner and things like that. Yeah. But then … the newer one is probably a more abstract kind of thing. Not so … historical in that sense. I mean, some shots are, but this type of thing here is … is more like just a visual thing rather than about a history of a certain time. Although that does relate to Ukraine. This one up here on the left. [chuckles, points to photo hanging on wall] [Transcriber’s notes: per Wikipedia, Bright Moments is a live album by the jazz instrumentalist Rahsaan Roland Kirk that was recorded at Keystone Korner in 1973. Keystone Korner was a jazz club located at 750 Vallejo Street that operated from 1970 to 1983.; Dennis’ Bright Moments collection of photographs is “a celebration of nocturnal, Bohemian San Francisco,” according to his website. Dennis says he hopes eventually to publish Bright Moments in book format.]

JOHN: Interesting, yeah.

DENNIS: But it's just a subtle one. I mean, it's not obvious with flags and stuff like that. [chuckles]

JOHN: Other themes that you've had, I think, include circus?

DENNIS: Well, not really a circus. Just the people in San Francisco that are performance people. You know, they're, you know, they're kind of related to the stuff back from the ... Palace Theatre, the Pagoda Theater. Same kind of people that...

JOHN: When you describe yourself on your site as a documentary photographer, do you see yourself as kind of documenting or chronicling the city in a way? Its life, its people?

DENNIS: Well, yes, but I'm missing a lot of it. I don't hang around in the Outer Sunset, for instance. And I wish I did more. Or other parts of town I never get to. So, yeah, I'm always documenting the city. And there are plenty of photographs that document it for any person. Whereas other stuff like this is a little more abstract and less about history. So I'm kind of mixing the two, but not being totally a documentary photographer, which can kind of look ... kind of I mean, if I look at books that are documentaries, sometimes I can't look at them very often. I have to have a visual interest as well, ‘cause it's just what...

JOHN: Did you ever think, or maybe you did for awhile, live in another U.S. city? New York?

DENNIS: Oh, no. Well, I went to New York for about six months once. That's the only other city I lived in...

JOHN: Did you do a project there?

DENNIS: [00:05:52] Well, I was … since I went to school with Annie Liebowitz back in the Art Institute days, and she was an underclassman, and I helped her printing and stuff at the time, she [chuckles] … she asked me to come to New York 10 years after she started at Rolling Stone to print her negatives, which I did. And then I kind of stayed in New York after that. But I never had a job in New York other than that. And so New York's kind of a cold city. And I said, “Well, in San Francisco you could still live economically compared to the intensity of New York, as well as the finances of the, all that stuff.” It also was a dark city. Like when a photographer came out to teach at the Art Institute, I think in the late '60s, Phil Perkis I think his name was, I think it was Phil. He said, “You know, I came out here and I had to open up, I had to close down my lens two stops because it's so bright out here compared to New York.” That's true. And I think of the East Coast that way in general as darker ... the light is more closer to the ground, I guess, or something. And you get a lot of trees for one thing, very dense with trees still. Plus, architecture from period pieces from the Europe-related. Whereas here we're kind of Asian and the end of the U.S. kind of ... and Mexico coming north and all kind of entanglement of cultures. So that's one good reason to be on the West Coast 'cause you're, you're not solidified into the [chuckle] colonial states essentially. [Transcriber’s notes: Anna-Lou Leibovitz is a photographer best known for her engaging portraits, particularly of celebrities, which often feature subjects in intimate settings and poses. Leibovitz attended the San Francisco Art Institute.; Per Wikipedia, Philip Perkis (born 1935) is an American photographer and educator. His work is held in the collections of the many museums, including Art Institute of Chicago, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles and J. Paul Getty Museum. He was born in Boston in 1935 and studied painting at San Francisco Art Institute.]

JOHN: We haven't talked about your personal life at all. When did you … you're married...?

DENNIS: Yeah. Magué is a painter. Right here. We met about '96, I think, when I moved into the old studio back there on … Francisco … I mean Vallejo Street. And … she's a painter. And well she wasn't ... she was more of a graphic designer and illustrator at the time. Somehow we met, I forget where. A bookstore or something like that. Yeah, Stacey's, graphic design. I was into typography myself and graphic design. So, yeah, we've been together for quite a few years now. [chuckles] [Transcriber’s notes: Magué Calanche is a mixed-media artist who shares a studio with Dennis at 480 Francisco Street. Per her website, Magué is Mexican American and was born in Ysleta, an Indian Reservation outside El Paso, TX. She has “painted landscapes, figurative and still lives; however, having spent many summers in Mexico as a child and numerous recent visits to Mexico brought back my claim of finding a more personal direction in my work. I address recollections and speak of my experiences growing up bi-culturally and of my appreciation for my roots by creating narratives that have depth and much more meaning for me.”; Stacey’s Bookstore was founded in 1923 by John W. Stacey in the historic Flood Building at 581 Market Street. The store closed in 2009.]

JOHN: And you live where?

DENNIS: Well, we live in Cole Valley, although we have the studio in North Beach. I used to live up on Salmon Alley by the cable car barn for, like, 20-something years. That rent went from 450 to 4,500. So I said, “I think I'll walk.” [chuckles] So … and then the other studio was inexpensive, and I had that for 23 years as well. That was a big one. [Transcriber’s note: The official name for Salmon Alley is Salmon Street.]

JOHN: You … perhaps it's because your studio is here in North Beach … but despite the fact that you live over in Cole Valley, you seem to be a real North Beach … person. You're here a lot of the time.

DENNIS: I don't know anyone in Cole Valley, actually, except for my neighbors across the street and another guy down the block. But somehow I never made any relationships out there. It's kind of strange, I think, but it never happened. And I've been there all these years. I think I'm usually just heading for the bus. I don't even hang out at a local bar, which is Finnegans Wake, and any Irish guy would hang around at a bar like that. But it's almost too close to home. [chuckles] So I go to the Club Deluxe to hear music. I used to, not as much anymore. But... [Transcriber’s note: Haight Street jazz bar Club Deluxe announced plans to close in April 2023, after a 33-year run, due to a landlord conflict.]

JOHN: On Haight Street?

DENNIS: [00:09:24] Yeah. Haight doesn't seem to have a ... maybe I have to know it better … North Beach there's sort of what I call this Golden Triangle. [laughter] At one point there was … Tosca's, Vesuvios and Spec's. That's a little triangle, right? And then it gets bigger as you go through the stations of the cross, so to speak, around bars to bars. You got the Saloon, you keep going north from there … but etcetera. North Beach has a night crawl rhythm where you could start at the north and work your way south, or you could start at the south and work your way north. And you used to be able to go to the City Lights until midnight I guess it was. Now it closes eight o'clock, so it's almost by the time you get there they're closed. [Transcriber’s note: Tosca Cafe, Vesuvio Cafe, Specs’ Twelve Adler Museum Cafe and the Saloon are bars in North Beach.]

JOHN: I wonder if they'll … stay open longer.

DENNIS: They've had some trouble with COVID. And so it's mask on again in there. Yeah, well, I like the history of North Beach because even there you have a photo agency. When you enter the City Lights … where you enter now, not the original old entrance, but where you enter now, there's tile on the floor and it's split down the middle. There was a photography studio there, and you can read some of the words...

JOHN: Fotografia. Yeah, it says Vito-something Fotografia... [Transcriber’s note: City Lights, located at 261 Columbus Avenue, is an independent bookstore and publisher that was founded in 1953 by Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Peter Martin. Vitalini Fotografia Italiana was a business run by Charles Vitalini, who immigrated to San Francisco from Italy in 1880. The name of the old business still appears in the floor tiles in one of City Lights’ entrances.]

DENNIS: Yeah. And then there's another one, Sandino, over on Stockton Street. It's still a photography studio, but it's Chinese photographer's studio, across from Walgreens. So those kind of histories, those are like the little jewels and everywhere [chuckles] the little stones that you can rub. [chuckles] [Transcriber’s note: Sandino Photography was located at 1317 Stockton Street, where Jason Photo Studio is now located. The name “Sandino” still appears on the sidewalk in front of the storefront.]

JOHN: Your … work ... is it, do you have gallery exhibitions or...?

DENNIS: I don't have, I said I've never approached a gallery before.

JOHN: So when you're...?

DENNIS: There’s usually been a … go ahead.

JOHN: Does your, do your works sell through word of mouth, is that how...?

DENNIS: Yeah, mostly word of mouth. I mean I put some stuff at Live Worms or...

JOHN: But you've also been collected I think by...

DENNIS: Oh, yeah, yeah. Here and there over the years. Well, when I was ... I think that's part of when you're teaching, you're involved with lots of other schools and this and that. It's a perk of teaching, which I sort of regret that I didn't pursue because … yeah, I have a couple of pieces at the MoMA in New York. Not here. I never approached these guys. And now I wouldn't know how to approach them. [chuckles]

JOHN: And some other universities and museum collections.

DENNIS: [00:11:45] Yeah, yeah. Well, England did it. I don't know how that happened. They did a thing called "Other Eyes" or something. A show from people that weren't from the British Isles, of the British Isles. And they used some of the Irish photographs, like ten, and then they bought some. So that's in the, whatever that collection is called in England. [chuckles] And once in a while they have another show and it's, you know, they use one of those again. But … the one at MoMA was kind of an interesting thing ‘cause in those days you could call. “Can I come over and show my work?” “Sure, come on over.” And so you'd bring your portfolio over. And, oh, actually they said, “Well, can you come over tomorrow?” or something like that. “Yeah, fine.” And then you get to the subway, or almost to the subway, and there's a little lady walking along the street saying, “Can you help me find the Lighthouse for the Blind?” And I saw this little blind woman in my heart. Well, maybe I can call MoMA and say, “You wouldn't believe this, but I'm trying to help a blind person find the Lighthouse for the Blind.” So that's what I did. And they said, “Well, just come back tomorrow or the next day.” It was easy in those days. Now you probably couldn't get anywhere near it unless you're somehow, you know, been discovered by whoever out there. So it was fun in those days. [Transcriber’s notes: Dennis’ work was featured in an exhibition called "Through Other Eyes," which was held at Impressions Gallery in June-July 1977. Impressions Gallery is an independent contemporary photography gallery space in Bradford, England.; The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York acquired photographs by Dennis in the mid-1970s.]

JOHN: What are some things that you have … as plans or goals, if you will? For the next few years.

DENNIS: Well, I still like to shoot around. Which is, I mean every day I go out I say, “Well, should I be shooting or should I be at the studio printing?” I gotta dig through the archives, definitely, and get rid of some stuff as well. I just started doing that the other day. But no, I want to shoot architecture outside of North Beach. When the sun's out, I hope [chuckles] with the architectural camera. And nighttime stuff, it just happens. I never know what's going to happen. It's chance ... Yeah, anyway … yeah, I mean we can continue to go to Mexico and shoot. But it's like everything, you know, you want to go to all the ... you like one place, but you want to go everywhere. And when you go to the next place you say, “I wish I would have just gone back to where I started because it was a nice town.” Oaxaca's a beautiful city.

JOHN: There's a lot of advantages to specializing, though, and really getting to know this...

DENNIS: Yeah, the people. I know a few people in Oaxaca. But it's a town where you don't have to know people. You kind of feel like you know 'em already ‘cause it's very friendly, far as a city goes. San Miguel is another story. To me that's a little less ... well, it's more Americanized, I guess, that's part of it. Plus Magué acts as my translator and she loves it there.

JOHN: She's from what part of Mexico?

DENNIS: She's from near El Paso.

JOHN: Oh, she's from Texas?

DENNIS: Yeah. She's born on this side of the border. But her mother language is Spanish. Mexican Spanish. And … but she's from more Chihuahua area, her family.

JOHN: Does New Hampshire still hold a place in your heart?

DENNIS: Oh, sure. I have relatives that I go to visit and things like that. And, you know, I like it's hard to shoot there because it's too nice looking almost, you know what I mean? [chuckles] It's like in some places in Europe. They're so clean I can't figure it out because it's too postcard almost. Here we're a little rougher still in the city. But of course, you know, you go to Water Street and you could be any time period, basically. Around the corner here. But … yeah, New Hampshire, I like it. But, you know, you've got a lot of these traditional houses and this and that. And one culture essentially, white culture. I like it, but it's specifically what it always has been. It hasn't changed too much from my point of view. Yeah. And the funny thing is I used to go there in the '90s. Was it? I think the '90s. Yeah. Probably before we had internet access too much. And you could disappear for a month and not have to deal with anything except for the telephone. But now you can't disappear anymore. That's kind of a negative, I'd say. Because there I could go off three weeks I wouldn't even think about San Francisco. But now I … you can't do it. Yeah … we're locked in.

JOHN: Well, is there anything that we haven't discussed that you think we ought to?

DENNIS: [00:16:35] Not really. Not at this juncture. [chuckles]

JOHN: Not at this juncture. Well, Dennis, I want to thank you very much for sitting for this interview, and … it's been great. If we think of anything else down the road we'll reconvene.

DENNIS: You can email me. [laughter]

JOHN: Alright. Thank you.


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