“A dear friend of mine scheduled couriers for DHL. From time to time he would ring and ask if I wanted to catch the next red-eye flight to New York. I always said yes. I was never certain what cargo I was accompanying. I only knew that there would be a ticket waiting for me at the counter and that 5 and a half hours later I would arrive at JFK.” – Janet Delaney
Throughout the 1980s, Janet Delaney’s job in a San Francisco photography lab was punctuated by the last-minute flights she would take to New York as a courier. Within these unexpected pockets of time she spent in New York, Delaney would wander the streets with her Rolleiflex camera, attending to the rhythms and characters of this much-mythologized city. Despite being tired and often lost, the act of photographing made Delaney feel present and alert, in tune with the crowds that pushed past her and mesmerized by the depth of history woven into the city’s structures.
The color photographs that make up this series are brimming with life and reveal the formation of Delaney’s generous approach to photographing streets and the people who inhabit them, capturing the precious mixture of private lives lived in public and transient moments of connection between photographer and subject.
With a text by Amanda Maddox, Associate Curator in the Department of Photographs at The J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.
About the Author
Janet Delaney uses research, interviews, and photography to record the untold stories of cities in transition. Her first project bore witness to the 1980s gentrification of a working-class neighborhood in San Francisco and was published as South of Market (MACK, 2013).
In Public Matters (MACK, 2018), Delaney documented daily life as it unfolded alongside protests and parades in Reagan-era San Francisco. She is currently completing SoMA Now, a record of San Francisco’s rapid transformation into an international center of technology and all of the consequences these new riches have wrought. Both honest and poetic, her approach straddles the line between documentary and fine art.
Delaney is a 2020 Guggenheim Fellow. She has received numerous awards, including three National Endowment for the Arts grants. Her photographs are in collections of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the de Young Museum, the Pilara Foundation, the Oakland Museum of California, and the Smithsonian Museum, among others. She has shown her photographs nationally and internationally and is represented by Euqinom Gallery in San Francisco, California.
Delaney received her MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1981. She has taught widely and held a faculty position at the University of California, Berkeley for 15 years.