San Francisco finds photos powerful

Gary Linehan, The Union Democrat

Things are picture perfect these days for Groveland photographer Robb Hirsch.

He is featured through Sept. 16 at a prestigious exhibition in Southern California and has eight images in the permanent collection of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which is unveiling its show tonight.

Seventeen of Hirsch's photos depicting the Eastern Sierra landscape are on display in a solo show at the G2 Gallery in Venice, a coastal suburb of Los Angeles.

G2 presents exhibitions with eco-conscious themes and is home to "the best contemporary nature photographers in the world - all my heroes," Hirsch said.

All of the gallery's share of sales commissions are donated to environmental charities.

The San Francisco collection focuses largely on the Sierra Nevada, Hetch Hetchy and Tuolumne River, which provide water and power to 2.4 million people in the San Joaquin Valley and Bay Area.

Also included are cityscapes, seascapes and images that reflect the cultural diversity of the SFPUC service area.

The exhibit, housed at the agency's new environmentally progressive headquarters at 525 Golden Gate Ave., was unveiled Aug. 23 during an invitation-only reception.

The 13-story building encompasses 277,000 square feet and has earned an LEED Platinum rating from the U.S. Green Building Council. Key sustainability features include on-site photo voltaic energy generation, 100 percent on-site wastewater treatment, 45 percent daylight harvesting and the consumption of 55 percent less energy.

It is believed to be the "greenest" office building in the urban United States.

In addition to artwork on every floor, the building's exterior showcases a permanent installation by Bay Area artist Ned Kahn.

The installion, titled "Firefly," is a lattice of tens of thousands of five-inch-square, clear-polycarbonate panels that are hinged so that they can freely move in the wind.

During the day, wind pressure makes the panels appear as undulating waves. At night, this movement is converted into colored lights mimicking fireflies.

The entire sculpture requires less energy than a 75-watt light bulb.

Inside are a total of 217 original paintings, drawings and photographs by nearly 100 artists, plus 140 historic photographs from the PUC's archive of more than 125,000 images dating back to the 19th century.

The PUC photos include the building of the Hetch Hetchy Railroad, construction of the O'Shaughnessy Dam and scenes of nature within the watershed system.

Hirsch's photos are in the company of such contemporary Bay Area artists as Robert Bechtle, Debra Bloomfield, Carmen Lomas Garza, Walter Kitundu, Hung Liu, Clare Rojas, Chris Brown, Paul Madonna, Owen Smith and Dugald Stermer.

"It's wonderful to be accepted and appreciated at that caliber," Hirsch said. "Not only does it give credibility to my photography, but it's so cool to be affiliated with that building."

The total purchase price for the 217 acquired works was $227,801, not counting framing and installation, said curator Jill Manton, director of legislation and special initiatives for the San Francisco Arts Commission.

Adding in "Firefly," an additional Ned Kahn interior installation titled "Rain Portal" and a video media wall by Obscura Digital, the total value of the artwork is about $1.8 million.

Funding came from a city ordinance adopted in 1969 that requires 2 percent of the construction cost of every new building to be set aside for artwork dedicated to that building, Manton said.

The San Francisco Arts Commission held an open competition for artists and galleries within the SFPUC service area, which includes Groveland.

"I reviewed approximately 4,000 images from artists and galleries, in addition to about 10,000 images from the PUC archives," Manton said. "I was seeing images in my sleep."

Hirsch was among the top three artists in terms of quantity purchased, Manton said.

"His work is beautiful and really resonates with the PUC images that we have of the watershed," she said. "Everyone who sees his work loves it."

Hirsch, who submitted the maximum 10 photos for consideration, was ecstatic about the response.

"I was confident in the quality and I would have been pretty disappointed if they hadn't accepted any, but when I saw they bought eight, I was totally blown away," he said. "I had no expectation of that."

All of Hirsch's photos in the SFPUC collection were taken in Yosemite National Park.

Hirsch, 42, lives in Groveland with his wife, Regina, and their son, Noah, 6. They own Mountain Sage Nursery, which also houses Hirsch's photo studio and sponsors a summer music series and other events.

Hirsch said his fascination with the natural world began with annual visits to Yosemite during his childhood. After earning his undergraduate degree, he traveled through Africa, Central America and the western United States, initially taking photos with the intention of using them as educational tools to promote conservation.

He established a career as a field biologist, working for U.S. Geological Survey, California State Parks and several private firms, focusing primarily on threatened and endangered species.

He began selling his fine art prints in 2002. In 2007, his color landscape, "El Capitan and the Merced River in Winter," was selected from 17,000 entries and named a winner in the Nature's Best Windland Rice Smith Nature Photography Competition, one of the most prestigious international contests.

His images have also been published in Sierra Club and Mono Lake Committee calendars and several magazines and books.

More of his photography can be viewed at Mountain Sage, the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite and at www.robbhirschphoto.com .

11879444
The Union Democrat
This image is copyrighted.

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