Visual Excavations of San Francisco’s Muni Graveyard
Introduction by Nicholas Carron
As is certainly the case with many mobile photographers, I’ve adopted a ritual at the end of the day to review the contents of my camera roll. I consider it my personal time to devise cohesive themes, salvage interesting compositions, revisit an incomplete edit, and formulate stories that reflect my experiences and opinions. While I consider it an adventure to go out and beat the pavement, discover unique visual patterns, fleeting instances of human interaction, and complex urban conditions, I equally regard exploring my photo collection as a comprised journey of self-awareness and reflection.
In addition to contemplating my own creativity, I also toggle around the world of mobile photography absorbing it’s resources, tools, and sharing platforms. I am consistently amazed by the diverse array of developers, writers, and artists who harness the medium’s infinite capabilities and present their own adventures through inventive visual interpretations and imaginative word. Often, I find an intuitive handheld rhythm builds while I engage in vibrant showcases of glowing landscapes, foreign street scenes, and poetic abstractions. I “like” emotive edits; I “love” minimal black and white renditions; I instinctively comment; I rarely blink; and I occasionally freeze on an image so sudden and prolonged that the fluidity of my browsing experience can’t be regained.
Such was the case when I ventured upon “Afroman”, a poignant, stunning representation of a forsaken San Francisco Municipal Railway car edged perfectly against the contrast of a white sky. I was instantly gripped by it’s shy, unexpected angle; it’s deep tones accentuated by a periodic flow of rust; and it’s ability to remain a balanced fixture atop a segment of dormant rail. I recall feeling as if I was actually there, and I wanted to explore everything about this guy’s realm.
“Wow! Speechless,” I commented on Instagram. “Hold on, let me think of a reply…. Ok…. if you are indeed doing a series on Muni, this is going to be sweet. No filter too… Very impressed @maplesyrup!”
Linda Klann (IG @maplesyrup) emanates a distinct approach to mobile photography that innately grips a viewer and sparks curiosity. In the case of her Muni Graveyard series, the lure of abandonment, mystery, and abnormal human-like characteristics resonated perfectly to the adventurous storytelling side of the medium.
Naturally, I asked Linda to share her experience shooting the Muni Graveyard and how she formulated a series through mobile photography.
It all happened by accident, or perhaps it was fate depending on your belief system. Deb Evans Braun (IG @debinsf) and I were out shooting the port, it’s abandoned industry sights, literally just driving down random roads and stopping at anything that looked interesting. We were at our last stop before lunch and about to get into the car when Deb spotted something behind a fence to our right. We decided to investigate, and as we approached the fence, I began to comprehend that the shapes behind it were derelict Muni trains.
They were each so different, like so many personalities abandoned and backed up against the fence. I immediately began to take pictures, trying to capture the fate and vulnerable sadness that pervaded this site for me. Everything was so washed out, the sky white and overcast, and the colors of the trains beaten by the weather. Everything was dejected.
Full Frontal: “The name came while editing, but what stood out in that moment was the sheer vulnerability that emanated from her. The way her colours were washed out, yet she seemed proud, stoic, and stripped down.” – Linda
I Think I Can: “Although it was pulled back from the fence, there was something about the isolation of this train on it’s own track that spoke of trying, struggling to catch up, and to finally succeed.” – Linda
Under Wraps: “In some ways, this is the most emotionally evocative shot. There is something that speaks of death, encasing, or entombing. Lynda Martin (IG @imageconjurer) described it perfectly when she said “shroud”. Something has passed and is off-limits here.” – Linda
“This amazing photo resembles a hostage or prisoner masked behind security.” – Nicholas
I became desperate to get in and even contemplated climbing over the fence as well as (unsuccessfully) squeeze through a hole. My actions were of great amusement to the skaters who were watching behind us. After exchanging a few witty remarks with them, Deb and I decided to throw caution to the wind, walk around and simply ask to be let in (an almost radical concept).
The security guard was very, very reluctant to oblige and could not understand why we wanted to photograph these broken down cars when the nice restored ones were in the Muni Museum. However, after much talking and downright begging, he agreed and we stepped into the yard with him.
While he toured us around, a whole new aspect to the scene started to present itself. Here was a man who had not only stood guard over these trains, but he knew their stories and their histories. I became entranced. He initially took us to “Afroman”, one of his favorites. The car was smeared with graffiti and the windows were boarded up. Before he was able to hire a staff, the guard explained how people used to break-in all the time, vandalize or even live in the trains.
Afroman: “This rail car spoke loudest of how we desecrate and discard things (even people) that are no longer useful. There is so much forgotten beauty in this abandonment.” – Linda
1034: “The huge train windows could be seen receding into the background, imagined as eyes and the reflections of so many memories fading fast.” – Linda
“The reflections and transparency together are amazing.” – Nicholas
Mr. White: “The solidity of this train was like a boxer, something that does not go down easily for the count. In reference to a boxing ring, the photo was cropped close and square to commemorate his toughness and ability to do his job every day for many years.” – Linda
Touch: “Being the only bus on the lot, it literally and figuratively stood alone. The way it interacted with the environment was interesting, such as how gentle and fleeting the touch of plastic wrap was in the vagaries of San Franciscan weather.” – Linda
Kiss: “The desolation and separateness between the many components in the yard was profound, yet these two bright blue cars were touching. There was something in that contact that was immediately sweet and poignant.” - Linda
“The act of a ‘kiss’ comes to mind without ever seeing the title.” – Nicholas
Muni Graveyard was the first series I did in any real sense of the word. Without an initial plan, it just seemed to come into being. While I was shooting, I knew I had found a gold mind of images that I had a lot of stories and emotional reactions, but I had no idea what was actually captured or how the photos would turn out. What made it a series for me was the consistent revisiting of images and seeing all the different trains and personalities with a singular sense of desolation, abandonment, or being forgotten.
In being able to shape and hold an emotional theme to create a narrative across several photographs was definitely a milestone for me. It’s a process that intrigues me, and I have been fascinated by how other mobile photographer’s have done it. I think of (your own) Urban Curse project or Adam Conner’s (IG @derblutenkat) Packard Plant series and how one can consistently revisit a place, hold a solid theme or story, and continue to go deeper. It’s really pushed me to try and think about the whole picture, which has inspired how I approach my Mare Island series, which also explores the spirituality or aliveness in the industrial objects we create.
I’ve started exploring printing the Muni Graveyard on aluminum as a way to reference the metal that composes the trains. My dream would be to take part in a gallery show and/or a book that looks at other visual narratives and becomes integrated into a series of short visual stories. Another real strength of this particular project (one that I would want to preserve in any medium) is the mixing of narratives that exist from a picture, the photographer, and an audience. There is a richness that comes with the multiplicity of interactive layers.
Linda is not alone in proclaiming that mobile photography has incited a mini revolution in her life. It’s reintroduced her to the process of creation in ways that are efficient and very satisfying.
Living in the Bay Area, she’s been drawn to the intersection of both community and solitude through the mobile photography process. On one hand, she is actively involved in the lively (IG) @igersEastBay group and participates in monthly photo walks or get-togethers 2 to 4 times a month. On the flip side, she craves the solitude of editing and relates the exercise to a deep, silent meditation where she can focus on the visual story that may not have been apparent at first.
All mobile photographs were primarily captured and processed using Camera+ with minor additional editing in Juxtaposer, Snapseed and Instagram.