Mimi Plumb used to live on the edges of the city where the rents were cheap. Nearby, on the summit of the hill, were folded layers of radiolarian chert, the fossilized remains of microscopic creatures called radiolaria. A large crevice in the hillside was a reminder of the ever-present threat of an earthquake. Warm Water Cove, along the bay, was a spectacle of tires and abandoned cars. One day Plumb photographed the chimney of the power station above the fiery destruction of the 25th Street Pier. She watched planes flying over the city dump of cardboard hillsides.
“Downtown buildings on the far-off horizon reminded me of Oz. My cat, Pearl, kept watch on the rooftop of my flat.” – Mimi Plumb
Plumb’s life was marked by nights out dancing at the Crystal Pistol in the Mission or listening to a punk polka band at the Oasis. Neil, the clarinet player, wore faux leather naugahosen, with spikes protruding from his head. Sometimes they played pool at Palace Billiards. At the Exotic/Erotic Ball, a birdman and a nurse hid in the corners. A steely-eyed silver man in his tuxedo stared back at Plumb from behind his mask, the camera flash shining a light on him. The photos of The Golden City collected in this book were taken between 1984 and 2020.
Plumb’s days were spent visiting abandoned schools and derelict gas stations, a billboard claiming ‘dangerously close to homemade.’ To Plumb the magical clanging of the San Francisco cable cars was a world away, and the idealism of the 1960s seemed long gone. The Golden City of San Francisco, fraying at its edges, showed the growing chasm between the rich and poor.
About the Author
Born in Berkeley, and raised in the suburbs of San Francisco, Mimi Plumb has served on the faculties of the San Francisco Art Institute, San Jose State University, Stanford University, and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She currently lives in Berkeley, California.
Since the 1970s, Plumb has explored subjects ranging from her suburban roots to the United Farm Workers movement in the fields as they organized for union elections. Her first book, Landfall, published by TBW Books in 2018, is a collection of her images from the 1980s, a dreamlike vision of an American dystopia encapsulating the anxieties of a world spinning out of balance. Landfall was shortlisted for the Paris Photo/Aperture Foundation First Photobook Award 2019, and the Lucie Photo Book Prize 2019. Her second book, The White Sky, a memoir of her childhood growing up in suburbia, was published by Stanley/Barker in September, 2020. The Golden City, her third book, due to be published by Stanley/Barker in early 2022, focuses on her many years living in San Francisco.
Plumb received her MFA in Photography from SFAI in 1986, and her BFA in Photography from SFAI in 1976. Her photographs are in the collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Art Collection Deutsche Börse in Germany, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Pier 24, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Daum Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Yale University Art Gallery. She is a 2017 recipient of the John Gutmann Photography Fellowship, and has received grants and fellowships from the California Humanities, the California Arts Council, the James D. Phelan Art Award in Photography, and the Marin Arts Council.