120 years SFMTA Photo Archive 1903-2023

Opening Dec 16, 2023 2-5pm
Dec 16, 2023 – Feb 3, 2024

Opening Reception: Saturday, December 16, 2-5pm

Exhibit Dates: December 16, 2023 – February 3, 2024

Location: Harvey Milk Photo Center, 50 Scott St. SF

Curated by: Jeremy Menzies & Melissa Castro Keesor

This exhibit draws on the 120-year-old collections of photographs in the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Photo Dept. & Archive. For twelve decades, photographers working for private transit companies and city departments have documented San Francisco’s transportation system inside and out. This day-to-day work has been compounded over the years into one of the largest single repositories of images focused on how people move around our city. 

Capturing everything from buses and streetcars on the streets to major historical events, the images inadvertently document the growth of San Francisco from a sandy backwater to a major metropolis. Well over 100,000 images have been created by more than two dozen people between 1903 and 2023. Of those, just a sampling is on display. 

While the formats have changed through the years, the intent of this work has remained the same “How to document a constantly changing industry?” “How to capture the history-making moments?” “How to show the humanity behind street and transit infrastructure?” And perhaps most importantly, “How to preserve the present and past for the future?” 

In the early 2000s, staff began a concerted effort to establish an archive for the historic collections separate from the contemporary photography work. With the help of grant funding from the San Francisco Historic Preservation Commission, over 20,000 negatives were scanned and rehoused in archival storage conditions during a decade-long project. These images cover a significant period of development for the city from 1903-1978 and were at risk of being damaged from age and degradation of materials. Today, the mission of the SFMTA Photo Archive is to preserve this record for future generations and provide access to these valuable resources for the public and SFMTA staff. 

About the SFMTA Photo Archive: sfmta.com/about-us/photo-department-archive 

Photographers in this exhibit: 

John Henry Mentz- Official Photographer, United Railroads & Market Street Railway Companies, 1903-1944 

Horace Chaffee- Photographer, SF Board of Public Works, ~1910-1942 

George Fanning- Head Photographer, SF Public Utilities Commission 1932-1958 

Marshall Moxom- Head Photographer, SFPUC, 1958-1978 

Ken Snodgrass- Photographer, 1959-1973 

Lester Teal- Photographer, 1973-1978 

William (Bill) Owyang- Head Photographer, SFPUC, 1979-1989 

Carmen Magana- Head Photographer, SFPUC/SFMTA, 1989-2009 

Heather Moran- Photographer, SFMTA, 2010-2014 

Jeremy Menzies- Photographer, SFMTA, 2014-Present