Five years ago in a friend's childhood home near Neil Young's mansion in Woodside, CA, The Popular Workshop's founders Nate Hooper and Andy Hawgood came upon a gallery curator's wet dream. They stumbled upon a crawl space brimming with almost 20,000 photos, slides and negatives vividly documenting the decades of globetrotting–in the vein of Robert Frank and William Eggleston–of one Bob Chisholm, an architect and amateur photographer who managed to take his children to every continent on the planet before they reached their 10th birthdays. The photos, untouched for nearly a decade, were never intended to be viewed by the public, yet somehow Hooper and Hawgood coaxed Chisholm to let them showcase his unrecognized talent to the city of San Francisco in their aptly titled exhibit Forgotten and Undisturbed, which opens this Friday, July 1st.
Only a third of the 20,000 photos, slides and negatives found in Woodside, CA
Chisholm had stashed away a body of work that could fill a dozen books and just as many gallery shows–and indeed, the work was courted by publishers in New York a few years ago. But The Popular Workshop charmed him enough to make this show his art world debut. The guys are also filming a documentary about the photographer which will be released halfway through the exhibit's duration. Chisholm, who was born in Burbank in 1945, did a lot of his travels perched atop a motorcycle and still to this day constantly has a camera hanging from his neck.
Hooper and Hawgood stand in front of the exhibit-in-progress
Chisholm used 35 MM and regular point-and-shoot cameras with Kodachrome film (RIP) to capture the counterculture of the 60s (he was fervently anti-war), street scenes a la Bill Cunningham and the evolving landscapes of urban and suburban life from the 1950s through the 90s. After a preview of the show, I sat down with Hooper and Hawgood to ask a few questions about their incredible luck:
How do you know Bob? Can you take me through the actual discovery of the all the photos and slides?
Bob is our longtime friend Devin's father. About five years ago, we were riding motorcycles up at the Chisholm property in the hills behind Woodside and went into the house to take a break when we stumbled upon a trove of slides nestled in a small crawl space. We spent the next few hours feeding the slide projectors these images and couldn't believe the amazing stuff we were seeing! We contacted Bob and he was all for letting us curate and display his work. Since then, the intrigue based on these images has grown and many ideas have bounced around, from art shows to publishing. So when we started The Popular Workshop, the question almost answered itself. We were going to show Bob's work here, in the gallery.
What kind of life is reflected in the photos? What's the overall mood of the images?
Just going through a body of work this prolific really allowed us to learn so much about Bob. He's an amazing guy. He's spent an incredible amount of time on the road, all over the world. What we started to notice, by going through his photographs, is that even across 40 years, there are certain thematic consistencies that ran through his work and life. There are profound moments of humor, darkness, anti-establishment and anti-war sentiments, but all seeming to gel in a non-heavy handed way.
We curated the show semi-chronologically, so the viewer is able to really watch his work develop. The earlier work seems to be rooted in more of a documentary street photography style but as the show progresses more complex narratives start to develop.
What was the process like, going through and sorting all of them to pick the best? What was your criteria?
From a curating standpoint, this was quite a challenge. Basically we spent a couple of weeks locked in dark room projecting thousands of slides on the wall. From there it was just a matter of refining the cut and picking out the images that most articulated Bob's voice, showed the breadth of this work and stood out on their own as strong images but also reinforced one another as a collective whole. There were definitely some debates! This show could have gone in many directions. We opted to exhibit a range of his work, since this is Bob's first show. There is certainly enough material for many more shows.
Forgotten and Undisturbed opens the evening of July 1st and ends August 13th at The Popular Workshop, 1173 Sutter Street, 415-655-3765. Gallery hours are Tues.-Sat., 12-6 pm.