When Mimi Plumb was growing up in the 1950s and ’60s in the California suburb of Walnut Creek, just east of Berkeley and Oakland, the landscape was undergoing a profound—if common—transition, from rolling hills to subdivisions. A few years later when Plumb was a student at the San Francisco Art Institute, she decided to look more closely at life in suburbs like the one where she grew up, and began photographing in and around her hometown and in Marin County, at the north end of the Bay Area. A show of the work, which Plumb made on and off throughout the 1970s, is on view in “What Is Remembered,” at RayKo Photo Center in San Francisco until June 5.
The images record a distinctly California landscape—there is Mount Diablo covered in dry grass, fields cleared for new construction, stuccoed subdivisions, an occasional farmhouse framed by live oak and a coyote perched menacingly on a picnic table. Plumb also photographed the culture of the place, catching kids dressed for Halloween in the harsh California light, the community’s reaction to a fire in the hills and images of its aftermath, and portraits of sullen families and rebellious teenagers. Also included in the show are images Plumb made later, in the 1980s, recording San Francisco nightlife in a era before tech money. Ann Jastrab, gallery director at RayKo, writes that Plumb brings to street photography “a feminine eye,” which directs her to more intimate stories and allows her closer access to subjects. These images can’t help but be personal reactions to “this place of extreme alienation, of land being constantly torn up and divided into subdivisions,” writes Jastrab. “This is where Mimi Plumb came from, and what she remembered.”