#SFphotohunt Portraits: Rita Harowitz

This profile is an interview with a San Francisco photographer, inspired by the exhibition The Radical Camera: New York's Photo League, 1936–1951 and the #SFphotohunt Instagram contest. This interview is with #SFphotohunt contest winner Rita Harowitz.

Winner photograph of the "Kisser" challenge of #SFphotohunt. 

Do you have a favorite place to photograph? Where is it and why?

My favorite place to photograph is in my Mission neighborhood in San Francisco. The people are amazingly diverse, always interesting, and the streets are lined with murals which make for colorful backdrops. I've never felt as much of a connection to a place as I do in my present neighborhood. I photograph what I feel connected to and I feel a strong bond with the people and places of the Mission.

What moves you to take a photo, and how do you know when you got a great shot?

I'm always scanning my surroundings for images. Someone or something will catch my eye and I'll know instantly that I want to take that photo. I don't always know when I've a taken a great shot but I know the potential for a good shot when I see it.

Do you work analog/digital, or both? What are the advantages of your chosen medium? 

I used to shoot analog and moved to digital about 10 years ago. I've gone from simple point-and-shoot digital cameras to high end ones but now I almost exclusively photograph with my iPhone. It's easy, it's inconspicuous, and i can share my photos instantly with others.

The winning entry to the #SecretSpaces challenge of #SFphotohunt, and the winner of the contest overall.

How did you discover photography and what was your first camera?

My father introduced me to photography when I was a child. We would develop family photos together in a corner of the den that was set aside as a make-shift darkroom. I got my first camera through Blue Chip trading stamps (hopefully some people know what those are). It was a Kodak brownie instamatic and I was ten years old. I still have my first photos that I took out on the elementary school playground.

Has photography changed the way you see the world?

Photography has changed the way I look at the world and how I interact with it. Some people claim that photography distances them from direct experience. I've found the opposite to be true. When I take a photograph I feel intensely involved with the world around me. I see colors more vividly, notice the light in a setting more, and see reflections that I'd otherwise miss. I usually start up a conversation with people that I want to photograph on the street. I meet strangers that way and generally find them less threatening and more friendly than I'd ever imagine. Many times these people do become friends or, at least, someone I have come to know and appreciate.

Do you belong to a community of fellow photographers? If so, what do you think this contributes to your photographic practice?

I belong to a community of photographers that I met on Flickr years ago. I was fortunate to have found Flickr when it first became a social network site back in, I think, 2002. I still go out shooting with people I met on there ten years ago and I've travelled the world to visit and photograph alongside others whom I came to know from afar on Flickr. Flickr made the world more accessible to me and enriched my life in ways beyond photography. It allowed me to use my camera to connect with others on so many levels. The world seems smaller and more "one" as a result.

What is your must-have photo gear / who are other must-see photographers?

My must-have photo gear is a back-up battery. My friend Cynthia always says, "The best camera is the one you have with you." As long as I have one and it's charged, I'm good. Must-see photographers? There are so many. Elliott Erwitt is a fave as is Weegee, who has some of his work included in The Radical Camera exhibition. Two photographers I've had the pleasure to meet and whom I greatly respect are Shelby Lee Adams and Aline Smithson. Shelby has photographed the folks of Appalachia for decades with such reverence and skill. Aline is not only an amazing photographer but also has a photography blog called Lenscratch that shares the work of well-known and not-so-well-known photographers.

Do you have any stories about a time you took a photo on the street, and something unexpected happened?

I don't have a story that jumps out at me. But there have been many instances of unexpected gratefulness for having seen and been able to capture a moment in time.

Do you have a favorite subject?

To riff on my friend Cynthia's quote "The best camera is the one you have with you." My favorite subject is the person I'm with.


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